A Spotlight Story: Sam Fernandez

Energy was high. It was very loud from the hustle and bustle surrounding us;

everyone was scrambling to prepare for the performance happening in just a half-hour.

The smell of stage makeup was overwhelming and drifted through my nostrils. Sam

nervously shifted in her seat next to mine. The glow of the mirror lights next to us lit her

dark complexion and gave her brown ponytail a warm glow that reflected her personality.

The thirteen-year-old explained how she got into theater in the first place: she attended

Peter Pan with her friend, was incredibly impressed by the quality of the performance,

and couldn’t wait to get started herself. “I thought that it was awesome,” she said. “I

loved the singing and stuff. I went directly to my mom and I was like, ‘How do I get into

Spotlight?’ I thought that it was probably going to be a lot of fun.”

She explained what it was like to come from a non-musical theater background

and plunge right into this huge company. “I was really nervous; it was my first audition

ever. I was going second, and I was actually behind [the boy who played the lead].” Sam

was terrified, but she sang her one-minute selection from Shrek: The Musical, “I Know

It’s Today” in front of all of the other auditioning 8-18 year-olds and their families. “My

legs wouldn’t stop shaking,” she recalled. “I remember [a boy in my audition group] told

every person ‘great job’ when they finished and sat back down.” Her biggest fear when

first coming was that she didn’t think she was very good at making friends. She told me

“everyone here has kind of got their own little group of friends.” Even though it took

Sam a few weeks to start warming up to the other kids, she eventually got acquainted

with these outgoing theater kids. “[A cast-mate] out of the blue; she apparently got me

a ‘Welcome to Spotlight’ gift and card, and oh my god I did not see that coming! I’ve

only seen one person who’s mean; a lot of people here are a lot nicer, and it’s a lot

friendlier environment.”

It wasn’t all easy though. Sam learned a lot of things about show business in her

six weeks of being in the company. “There’s a lot more pressure, on learning lines, and

learning songs,” she told me, “I learned that you have to wear a lot of makeup in order to

do shows; I learned that the costumes are not store-bought, and if they are, they modify

it; I learned that there’s a lot more people going into a show than I realized!”

Because we were interrupted, we moved to Sam’s new favorite place: backstage.

Her excitement was radiating, even in the dark behind the heavy black curtains. “I love

being back here. The only thing I don’t like is that I can’t watch right up close.” Her face

lit up, she let out a giggle, and she exclaimed “Sweet!” when I showed her a close-up

spot where the audience couldn’t see her. Her thoughts throughout the performance were

ridiculously selfless. She said she was only thinking, “How can I help backstage? How

can I help people get on and get off easier?”

Sam grew up in Batavia, but moved to Plainfield during elementary school. When

she moved, the other students were not nice to her, and she developed a more shy nature.

Her family soon moved back to Batavia, but this time she was in middle school, so things

were a lot harder than they were before. She likes to help the teachers out because her

peers aren’t very kind to her. She explained that her mom got hurt when Sam was only

six, and now is paralyzed from the waist down. Sam was angry with God for a very long

time, and Spotlight’s outspoken youth made her uncomfortable at first. Being a Christian

organization, Spotlight’s students and directors have no restrictions on what they can and

can’t say regarding their faith. However upset with God Sam was for her social situation

and her mother’s well being, she attended the optional student-led worship and

devotional time almost every Saturday morning before rehearsal. She feels significantly

more comfortable talking about religion and God more now.

The vocal director’s clear, loud voice pierced the air saying, “places in five!”

After Sam and others around her shouted back, “thank you places!” she giggled and

prepared herself to go onstage. In her last phrase to me, she said, “Spotlight is awesome.”

The energy is still as contagious, now, at the cast party. The same friendly, fun

people are together once more without the pressure of a production. Jen, the director,

approaches the microphone in front of us. She begins to present an award, saying, “This

award goes to the least self-centered person here. The winner of this award was the most

eagerly helpful person; someone who is a true delight.” Whispers start floating around

among the kids and teenagers as they try to guess who it will be. “This person,” Jen

continues, “is one of the most selfless people in the cast.” Everyone knows who the

award is for. As soon as Jen says, “this award goes to Sam Fernandez!” Sam leaps out of

her seat and bounces up and down before bounding onto the stage and hugging all of the

directors in thanks. Instantly all of her new friends and peers rise to their feet and applaud

proudly. Curiously, I peek back at Sam’s mother to see her reaction. The most beautiful

“mother tears” run down her face as she applauds for her daughter. As everyone gets

settled down to hear the next award, I think to myself, “this is only the beginning.”


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Farewell to a Friend…

We have lost a prince, a genie, a disciple, a jet… but most of all, we have lost a friend.

Together, we hold on to the hope and promise that we will meet again.

For the laughter, the tears, and the joy you brought… we are forever grateful to you, Pete.

pete al

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A Note from our NEW Area Coordinator in Rockford….

“I feel incredibly blessed by the opportunity to serve our Lord and the families of Spotlight Rockford Metro as your incoming Area Coordinator! Spotlight Youth Theater is a very important part of my life and the lives of my family. I have two children who simply love this program and the friends they have made here. I know the skills they have learned, friendships they have developed, and IMG950072Faith they have broadened will serve them beautifully in their futures! My husband has enjoyed helping with Sets for several productions. I have served on the Costumes Committee for 11 shows, the last 4 of which I enjoyed as Chairperson. Our family is very excited to begin our 4th year with Spotlight! I am especially thrilled to begin my adventure as your new AC! I look so forward to this opportunity to expand my service to God & this wonderful community in a new & exciting capacity!”

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An interview with our new Production Director, David Fiorello!

Elle Sprague: Hey David! Congrats on your new position as Production (Artistic) Director of Spotlight Youth Theater!  I know that you’ve taught a few classes for us in NW Cook and Oak Park, but I think that you are still a new face to most people in Spotlight.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? In other words …. Who IS David Fiorello?

David Fiorello: Of course! Well, I grew up on the South Side…of Northwest Connecticut. I have an awesome Mom and Dad that were always incredibly encouraging of the arts. I’m one of 5 kids, and all of them have musical gifts of some sort! My older brother is a worship leader, I have 2 younger brothers that are twins, and one spent some time at the Brownsville Revival in Florida, then the Toronto Revival, and the other brother was at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. Now the first one works with Patricia King’s ministry in Arizona, and the other is getting married in a couple of weeks! Then I have a baby sister (not a baby anymore) and she’s got a beautiful voice as well, married, has a kid. It’s great to see how God’s grace has been on our family, not only with the gifts he’s given, but his protection and patience with a bunch of brash Italians! But it all started at home, with an encouraging, Christ-centered family unit that is so present in the Spotlight Community! It’s probably something that draw me into Spotlight early on!39645_530791857514_2233952_n
In terms of school, I went to a Performing Arts school in CT during High School, and then for college went into a Musical Theatre program at Shenandoah Conservatory/University in Virginia. It was there that I met my incredible, gorgeous Warrior Princess of a wife, Sarah, and the rest is sweet history. I went straight away into a Masters of Muisc Program upon graduating, while my wife went to The New School for Drama’s masters program in NYC. She also ended up going to culinary school (God blessed me with that one, FOR SURE),  and worked in famed chef Daniel Boloud’s restaurant on the Upper East Side called, what else, Restaurant Daniel. This year’s Elite Traveler magazine listed Daniel as #2 in the world. So, yeah, she can cook! We got married 4 years ago, and life has been pure bliss!

ES:  Spotlight Youth Theater isn’t your first rodeo.  Tell us about some of the other times you’ve worked in the performing arts.

DF: Sure! Performed a lot in High School, and performed a TON in college. Also went into Producing, Directing, Music Directing in college, and founded (and served as Artistic Director) for The Renaissance Theatre Project,  and by the time I finished my undergraduate degree, I had probably racked up over 250 musicals and plays. I knew early on that if I wanted to pursue something, I needed to go all in. The world pays for people who are 9s and 10s, and so I became a bit of a musical theatre historian, and tried to learn just about every musical there is. I left school for a year to do a National Tour of a show called PUTTIN’ ON THE HITZ, an Irving Berlin revue, where I served as Music Director and Lead Performer, singing many songs from the piano, and playing several roles. It was a blast, and it prepared me well for my next tour, which was John Doyle’s SWEENEY TODD, where I served as Music Director as well. It was based on the Broadway production where the cast members also play instruments, and was an unforgettable experience that taught me a lot! I’ve done work on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regionally, and recently my wife and I moved from NYC to Chicago, as I accepted a position at Northwestern University in their Music Theatre Certificate Program!
I’ve written shows, served as Show Doctor for many productions, Music Directed, Choreographed, you name it! Much like many of the wonderful folks at Spotlight! My wife and I are also Worship Leaders, and we fully believe in giving our best to the Lord, and going where he sends us. Right now, it seems to be the Northern Suburbs, which coming from the city of Chicago, is truly a return to our Connecticut and Virginian roots!1918893_527143318703_6818240_n

ES: That’s awesome.    I know you have watched a lot of our shows and have familiarized yourself with Spotlight Youth Theater recently.  So, what we all want to know is… Why are you excited about working with Spotlight?

DF: My goodness, there’s probably 400 reasons why I’m excited about working with Spotlight! We won’t get into all 400 now, but find me and ask me, and I’ll give you some more! I have to say first and foremost that it’s clear that God has his hand on this endeavor. As I’ve joined the team, it’s very clear that Teri, Darlene, the Board Members and the Office Staff are invaluable tools that make this joint tick. I’ve been blown away by the organizational skills and attitudes of the Area Coordinators, and it’s so clear that these kids are being given the best of the best. The attention to detail from the Area Coordinators is stunning, and I couldn’t be more excited to add value. The productions themselves were so knockout. I couldn’t believe that I was watching shows that were better performed, better Directed, better sounding, better looking than many college shows I’ve seen friends in before. The quality of Spotlight is radically important if we’re going to continue to expand the Lord’s vision for this endeavor, and it all boils down to the vision. The Directors, Vocal Directors, Choreographers, Assistant Directors, Technical Directors, Production Area Coordinators, all of it results in the incredible quality of these shows, and it has me so excited to join such a stellar well-oiled machine!
But if I have to say the thing that impressed me the absolute most? It has to be the parent volunteer system. There’s no secret that parents being invested in their kid’s lives is something not only biblical, but physiologically crucial to development, and like any great enterprise, the core of the system is the volunteer army that makes the engines run. I know it sounds like high praise, but in reality, it’s the best thing that Spotlight has going for it. The parents, kids, Area Coordinators, Production Teams, Staff, all of it works well because of the core. And it’s something that can take Spotlight to the next level, when the foundation is in the will of the Lord!

ES: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us David.  Any parting words for our readers?

DF: The power of positivity is something I believe in fully, and I think it’s an attitude that Spotlight has in spades. And as we navigate the treacherous waters of the arts, especially the need that many artists have to just do “what feels right” or “live in the moment”, it’s important to know that a standard of right and wrong has already been set before us! So many times we try to fit God’s word and God’s plan into our own narrow construct of what we want right now, or what feels right. But God created music, God created the power of the spoken word (on a stage or otherwise), and God created our vision and capacity to make beauty. By giving our gifts back to him, we focus on goodness, not the world’s view of moral relativity. That’s why when I heard about things like prayer in the classroom and worship on Saturday morning rehearsals and the like, I knew instantly why Spotlight was more successful than the other childrens’ theatre companies. With Christ on our side and love in our hearts, and kindness of spirit, I think we make something that brings honor and glory to Him! And I’m so excited to share in that, and help continue the expansion of Spotlight’s mission!


If you have any further questions for David or would like to welcome him personally, he can be reached at dfiorello@spotlight.org.


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A few words about Project Dance Camp….

Lexie from Aurora:

I have to say I think I’ve grown the most as a dancer this year at PD camp. Personally, I am someone who loves to perform, and I’ve always had the passion to do so. The difficult part for me is believing in myself. Coming to camp, the theme this year, “Inspire” was one so near and dear to my heart because I am inspired by so many amazing people in my life. It’s easy to look at the people around us and think “Wow, what an inspiration they are” or “They’re just such a beautiful person to watch onstage (and off!).” But normally, we don’t consider ourselves a part of that, or ever think we are good enough to BE an inspiration. I am without a doubt a person who feels this way most of the time. I worry constantly about what others are thinking of me, and feeling as if I am not good enough to do anything at all, and the enemy attacks with these words. However this year at camp, I felt the power only ONE can provide through every step, arm movement, facial expression etc. as I performed in showcase. There was so much joy in my heart, and I knew there was no where I would rather be than right on stage, dancing. And not just dancing, but dancing because The Lord called me to do so. It’s so special to remember each and every one of us is called to do something in our lives, no matter if we think it’s something big or minuscule.  And that’s such a beautiful thing to realize. Inspiration comes from Him, and it’s incredible to think we get to be a part of that story.

Gabby from Oak Park:

I started participating in pd camp 5 years ago and fell in love with them. But something happened this last year. I was a senior, so it was my last time being able to go. It crushed me. But God used this last time to really work on me. I’ve never felt closer to God. Being surrounded by fellow Christians dancing for Him was incredible and definitely changed my heart. Even though it is my last time, it was by far the best, most memorable, and most life altering year yet.

I used to just dance because it was fun, but now I will forever dance for my Lord.
I think the most memorable part of Camp for me, was the ballroom class. It was the hardest for me. I had been partnered with a guy who was like 6’ft something and I’m like 4’11. I assumed the choreographer had messed up and thought I was taller than I was or there had been a mistake or something to explain why I had been paired with the tallest guy in the class!!! My shoulder met his lower chest for goodness sake! Well that night I had talked to my dance partner to see if he wanted to switch partners and we agreed; but that night I had prayed about it and changed my mind and figured “ok God, I came here to be challenged and You obviously know what you’re doing, I guess I’ll have to  TRUST You.” I told the teacher the next day that I accepted the challenge… turns out she had faith in me the whole time and never had plans of switching partners. Oh man, that still makes me laugh. Big Thank you to my teacher for challenging me. It payed off and I can now say I’ve been able to dance with the tallest guy!

Elise from Lake County:

I think I grew as a dancer in many different ways during my time at camp, but I think I mostly grew as a dancer because I learned what truly inspires me to dance.

My relationship with God is always changing and growing but when you choose to do everything for His glory you are able to draw closer to him.

I will have to say that I will never forget how close our team gets at camp. After dancing all day and you are at your weakest point physically and emotionally when your team gets together and just talks about anything and everything. We share our struggles, pains, joys and remind each other that we never walk alone. I’ll always remember the promises that we make to each other and crazy stories that are told.

During Project Dance Camp, I realized that I never have to stop dancing, no matter what I want to do with my life as an occupational standpoint I will never have to give up my passion. I have been told by many people I look up to that, ‘you’re a good dancer but a dance career may not be for you,’ and ‘it is so hard for anyone to make it in dance’ but after this week I have been reminded that if dancing is your passion then it will find a way into your life plan. I know now that if I have been inspired to dance then I will dance anywhere because you don’t need a stage to dance on or an audience to dance in front of all you need is music and your feet to make you fly.

Favorite quote at camp: “There are no such things as mistakes, only unexpected solos”

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What are the Spotlight Stars Awards?

What are the Spotlight Stars Awards?

The Spotlight Stars Awards are a celebration of the 2013/14 Spotlight Season. Imagine the Tony Awards but starring and awarding our Spotlight Family.

How does it work?

A panel of judges has been selected featuring Spotlight Directors, Staff, Parents, Alum, and complete Strangers! The panel will review each of Spotlight’s THIRTY TWO productions and vote for the followingcategories: Best Musical, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Featured Actor, Best Featured Actress, Best Ensemble, Best Direction, Best Vocal Direction, Best Choreography, Best Featured Ensemble, Best Lighting Design, and Best Hair/Makeup Design.

Once the votes come in, the top five nominations for each category will be announced and eligible for the Golden Star.

What will the night of the awards be like?

We are going all out for our black tie event! Attendees will enter the theater by way of the red carpet where photographers and videographers await. While waiting in the lobby, patrons will be able to enjoy appetizers as well as cocktails and soda as they mingle and view the silent auction items.

Once in the theater and the show begins, our host will treat guests to a night of awards, testimonies, music and performances from the Best Musical nominees!

Who can come?

We want everyone to be there to support the nominees and the organization. Our goal is to have one night where our whole family and their friends can come together to celebrate the last year. We are also reaching out to press and donors to help us make next year even bigger and better.

What exactly are the June 14th auditions for? 

We are planning huge production numbers to be performed at the ceremony.  So, we need a cast of 16-28 dancer/singers to perform in the big numbers! The auditions will begin with a really exciting dance audition and then you may be asked to come back that evening for a vocal audition.  More information about the auditions can be found at http://www.spotlight.org/news

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Getting to Know Keith

How did you first get involved with Spotlight?
I first got involved with CYT/Spotlight when I was 9, I took 2 classes in DuPage and I went to 2 auditions and I chickened out both times.  Then when I was 12 I did an Aurora Park District summer show and met the Molica’s, Hauser’s & Petit’s at the end of the show they told me about CYT and how much fun it was, I decided to try it again and I signed up for classes and auditioned for Pocahontas.  I was hooked from then.


Dupage’s production of Hairspray. Spring 2014

Can you tell us how Spotlight has impacted your life in a positive way?
Spotlight has had a huge positive impact in my life.  Before Spotlight I would let things and other kids upset me and I would get mad about it and then I would do/say stupid things. I did not have many friends I could trust or be able to talk to. Since joining Spotlight I have made numerous friends that I know I can talk to about anything and a lot of times I don’t have to even say anything, they can tell something is wrong and come up to me or just be there. These same friends have been my role models by example as they have shown me different ways to handle different situations in a positive way.  The kids, teachers/directors and parents have also shown me that it’s ok to be me no matter what and have encouraged it.  I have carried all of things I have learned from spotlight to my life outside of Spotlight and try to be that same type of role model by example.  I have also been able to understand the importance of having God in my life and that he is responsible for leading me to Spotlight.


Keith and his mom, Nancy.

Has Spotlight done anything to bring you and your mom closer to each other?
I think Spotlight has brought me and my Mom closer than we were.  We have always been close since it’s always just been us two but there was a time where I was embarrassed to “hang out” with her but not anymore. I have seen how much she does for me and I love and appreciate everything she does.


Keith and the cast of Shrek.





What did it mean to you to play Shrek this year in Lake County?
Playing Shrek this year was a dream come true!!!  I can’t even try to explain how excited I was when I read the cast list. It was such a great experience in every aspect. I was challenged vocally and in my acting. I have many favorite shows for different reasons but Shrek is definitely #1.

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