Lake County Welcomes new Class AC, Lara Hough

hough familyLara comes to us with a wealth of experience in elementary education, musical theater production, and spiritual leadership.  Those of you who have taken classes on Monday nights in Lake may already be familiar with Lara’s leadership skills as she has been filling the position of Assistant Class AC on Mondays for two sessions!

Lara is also the mother of five incredible children (4 girls and 1 boy), 4 of which have been active with Spotlight in several productions, and her oldest daughter, Katie, is currently working as the Costume Assistant in the Spotlight Costume Warehouse.

We’re thrilled to welcome Lara into the AC position and look forward to seeing how she will undoubtedly enrich the lives of our students and teachers in Lake County.

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Welcome to our new Director of Education!

Screenshot 2015-02-18 10.23.05Spotlight Youth Theater is proud to announce that Ryan Simpson has accepted the position of Director of Education. Ryan grew up through the program as a student in McHenry County and went on to pursue a degree in Musical Theater at Illinois Wesleyan. After receiving his BFA, he was able to cultivate a career as an actor on the East Coast working primarily with Theater at Monmouth in Maine. While in Maine, Ryan’s heart was always back here with Spotlight, and he would find his way back to direct several shows with us over the years. We are thrilled to have Ryan back here with Spotlight full time and look forward to how his experience and expertise will help grow Spotlight Youth Theater’s education program!

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Jen Heim’s Top 50 Pictures from 2014

I cannot even begin to explain how hard this was.  I shot 26 shows this year so that was over 90,000 images to go through!  I have to say that without a full team of directors, lighting designers, costumers, hair and makeup pros, and talented kids, my images would look a lot different.  So thank you to every single person involved in making my job of choosing my favorite moments so difficult!  It really takes the quality of the shows to the next level.

Jennifer Heim of Jennifer Heim Photography

Jennifer Heim of Jennifer Heim Photography


P.S. This list just goes to show you…..even if you’re in the back, someone will see you:)

So here goes, my top 50:


Number 50

50) The Music Man Jr.- Rockford- I just love this sweet and tender moment of wishing and hoping to be able to say goodnight to the person they love. Simple, yet so touching at the same time.



Number 49

 49) Narnia– Orland Park- I literally just want to cry.  Miss Avery has to be the cutest Mrs. Beaver ever



NUmber 48

48) Mulan Jr.– Orland Park- Such a well lit shot!  You can see the disappointment that Fa Zuh has in Mulan.  And yet the audience also see’s Mulan’s struggle with herself and who she is to become.



Number 47

47)Hairspray– DuPage- The coolest kids ALWAYS rocked this scene!  Led by Seaweed, Marcus Canada, they were always together and sharp.



Number 46

46)Pocahontas– Rockford- I really enjoyed this scene every time I saw it.  The dancers were spot on, and the trio of narrators was amazing!  I loved the storytelling in the movement.



Number 45

 45)Shrek the Musical– Lake- No caption needed, just “Oh Keith….”



Number 44

 44) Hairspray– DuPage- Every single time I watched Caleb perform, he gave the show something new.  His reactions were hilarious!



Number 43

 43) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer– NW Cook- Hey, let’s give the nicest kid in the world the villain role…..well done directing team!  I saw a side of Tyler I didn’t know he had.  So cool to see his growth in this role.



Number 42

 42) Mulan Jr.- Orland Park and Will County- These soldiers were so funny in this scene, pretending to act like maidens to get close to break into the palace!



Number 41

 41) Willy Wonka Jr.– Oak Park- Claire Connolly had THE biggest facial expressions this entire show.  She lit up the stage.



Number 40

 40)  The Music Man Jr.– Rockford- Every. Single. Time I hear the pick-a-little song, it sticks in my head for months.  Even now, yep, I’m singing it.  These girls were so fun to watch!  They just fed off each other’s energy!



Number 39

 39) Oliver!- Oak Park- This gang, just LOOKS like they are about to be mischievous.



Number 38

 38) Narnia– Orland Park and Will County- Kennedy was great as the White Witch!  She was in character the whole time and I never saw her break.



Number 37

 37) Annie Jr.– DuPage- Maryann was so into this scene, I’ve never seen her look so angry!  And yet, I could tell she had a lot of fun being sassy.



Number 36

 36) You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown- Kane- The cutest part about this show,I think, was the little side moments with the Woodstocks during scene changes.  Great way to use the cast to distract from other parts of the stage.



Number 35

 35) Seussical Jr.– DuPage- These girls were SO funny!  Every time they were on stage, they had the biggest facials, and their harmonies….goosebumps!



Number 34

 34) Oklahoma!– Lake- Pointe….on stage….. :)



Number 33

 33) Beauty and the Beast Jr.– NW Cook- Classic.  So elegant and loving.



Number 32

 32) Cinderella– Oak Park- I loved these two together! Patrick and Annie were so sweet.



Number 31

31) Peter Pan– Aurora- Again… words.



Number 30

 30) Oliver!– Oak Park- Where is love is such a beautiful song.  And the special part about this dance is that Kylea and Nathan are siblings.  Brings a tear to my Mama heart.



Number 29

 29) Robin Hood the Musical– Lake- Such cool lighting!



Number 28

 28) You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown- Kane- Happiness is snow….lots and lots of snow (on stage that is).



Number 27

 27) Honk! Jr.– Aurora- Hannah was really sweet as Ida.  I love the lighting here.



Number 26

 26) Seussical Jr.– DuPage- Mark’s face is priceless and Leanna was so sassy in the role of Mayzie!



Number 25

 25) A Little Princess– Kane- I loved this scene and the ballet that helped tell the story.  It reminded me of my grandma who is always with me, especially when I dance.  *tear*



Number 24

 24) The Sound of Music– NW Cook- This scene was really touching.  It’s the moment when Captain Von Trapp remembers how music helps heal the heart and warm the soul.



Number 23

 23) Shrek the Musical– Lake- Kory rocked it as Farquaad!  SO funny!



Number 22

 22) Bye Bye Birdie– McHenry- One of my favorite parts of this show was the kid ensemble!  The nuggets were ALWAYS so energetic!  Their facials were dramatic and drew my attention every time.



Number 21

 21) Oklahoma!– Lake- Trevor, Elizabeth and Isaac were definitely the comedic relief of the show.  Their timing was perfect!



Number 20

 20) Grimm Fairytales- Kane- Wanna take a selfie?



Number 19

 19) Shrek the Musical- Rockford- I can’t get over the facials that Jordan made.  She was a trip!



Number 18

 18) You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown– Kane- I appreciate a good kick line.  These girls were right on in this shot!



Number 17

 17) Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat– McHenry- I’m a sucker for Close Every Door.  Loved this moment.  River really expressed more emotions than I can count.



Number 16

 16) Hairspray– DuPage- Alisha gave me chills every time she performed “I Know Where I’ve Been”.  This moment was such an emotional anchor for the show.



Number 15

 15) Peter Pan– Aurora- Such a cool lighting effect!  Well done team!



Number 14

 14) Honk! Jr.– Aurora- Ben WAS a cat….



Number 13


Number 12

 13) Shrek the Musical– Rockford AND 12) Shrek the Musical– Lake- Forever is one of my FAVORITE songs in the show.  Takes a powerhouse vocalist to perform it and boy did Codie and Asia do just that!  I couldn’t decide which moment I liked better so I had to use them both.  I think the one thing that made Lake’s stand out, is the fact that Codie was belting that song AND operating a huge puppet.



Number 11

 11)Annie Jr.– DuPage- Get out of their way!  These orphans are tough!



Number 10

 10) Pocahontas– Rockford- The facials on these Indians…..WOW!



Number 9

9) Oklahoma!– Lake- Such a beautiful moment in Laurey’s dreams.  I love the fact that the audience has the chance to SEE her dream unfold and not just hear her sing about it. Genius writing Rogers and Hammerstein…



Number 8

 8) Bye Bye Birdie– McHenry- Payten really broke out in this role.  She acted from head to toe and it was really nice to see her have a moment in the spotlight.



Number 7

 7) A Little Princess– Kane- I love that starry backdrop.  I love the use of fabric in this piece and even though the stage was HUGE and the set minimal, it was effective and a nice focal point.



Number 6

 6) Godspell– Aurora- How many times do you get to fight with your actual brother on stage?



Number 5

 5) Shrek the Musical– Lake- AHHHH!  The lines!  Great job, Miss Melanie!



Number 4

 4) Hairspray– DuPage- These nicest kids worked their rears off!  So energetic EVERY time they were on stage!



Number 3

 3) Godspell– Aurora- Honestly, I can’t believe I caught this moment with the light.  SO powerful.  The entire audience was silent.



Number 2

2) Grimm Fairytale– Kane- The lighting…..PERFECT!!  Look how each face is illuminated!  I call this “Morticia Addams lighting”.



Number 1

 1) Oklahoma!– Lake- This could actually be from ANY show, but what I love MOST about these kids, is they keep Christ at their center, and know that HE gave them the talent to shine for him.  I love this moment and I make sure to get it for every single show.

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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


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