Jennifer Heim’s Top 50 of 2015!

Year three for Jen’s top 50 and it hasn’t gotten any easier!  Actually, it is continually harder for me to pick my favorite moments because the counties get stronger every year in the design aspects of the show!  Lighting, Makeup, Costumes, Sets, Directing Teams and the Kids are pushing themselves to be more creative and to take chances to make magic happen.  I am in awe of the talented people I get to work with every season and I can’t wait to see what 2016 holds!  Thanks to everyone for your outstanding work and for allowing me to capture the magic! ~Jen


50- McHenry Schoolhouse Rock _MG_038150) McHenry- Schoolhouse Rock

Every time I see this image, I can’t help but laugh.  The facials are priceless!


49- Orland Park Charlie Brown _MG_146049) Orland Park- You’re a Good Man,Charlie Brown

Oh, Book Report…. Have you ever just dreaded writing a report in school?  Cody Hannig’s expression says it all.


48- Lake Charlie Brown _MG_417648) Lake- You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

I just thought this scene was funny!  Again, Book Report, BUT, the boys dancing the story Schroeder (Isaac Englehardt) was writing, were in Robin Hood last season, including Robin Hood himself, Royce Lloyd.


47- Kane Millie _MG_506347) Kane- Thoroughly Modern Millie

This was a beautiful scene about dreaming of the future.  Something that everyone does, but when Nathan and Kayla performed the scene, I got lost in the dream with them.


46- Aurora Aladdin_MG_133646) Aurora- Aladdin

Ben Rogers. Dude.  You were funny!  I loved the special effects in this scene.  The flying added to the much magic and energy to the show!


45- Nw Cook Talls _MG_149245) NW Cook- Great American Tall Tales

Plant a Seed.   It is quite possibly my favorite song from Great American Tall Tales, and the addition of 9 dancers “growing up” on stage, simply beautiful.


44- McHenry Oklahoma _MG_447744) McHenry- Oklahoma

I LOVE this scene!  The characters are so well written and these kids just killed it!


43- Orland Park Charlie Brown _MG_191043) Orland Park- You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

Yeah…..I still want to be a Woodstock, but I don’t fit the costume…These kids had so much fun and were so energetic I just wanted to jump up there with them and join the party!





42- Kane My Son Pinocchio IMG_301442) Kane- My Son Pinocchio

This was a VERY creative way to use lighting to create a backdrop for a scene.  The whale scene is so difficult to do!   I appreciated the way it was simply but effectively executed!   Using just lighting, made the focus be on the actors, not the set.


41- Rockford Mary Poppins IMG_873841) Rockford- Mary Poppins

I really enjoyed Step in Time!  The sweeps were spot on in their movement and the addition of flying added another level!


40- Aurora Tarzan IMG_328340) Aurora- Tarzan

Oh Josie….


39- Oak Park Hairspray IMG_052039) Oak Park- Hairspray

Girl….Take me to Church!  Harmony Palmore was amazing in this role and had the entire audience on their feet by the end of “I Know Where I’ve Been” at every single performance.


38- Aurora Seussical _MG_895838) Aurora- Seussical

The chemistry between Mayzie and Gertrude was great! Payten and Sophie were totally in sync and played off each others’ characters  wonderfully!


37- NW Cook Les Mis _MG_641037) NW Cook- Les Miserables

Jason, this role took you to a new level.  There was depth, I could easily see your character’s growth throughout the show, and you made my heart hurt for you in this scene.  Well done, Sir.


36- Lake- Charlie Brown _MG_489636) Lake- You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

One of my favorite roles is Sally in Charlie Brown.  Abby Hough, you had more energy that I have ever seen one kid have on stage!  You were totally “the little sister who has something to say about everything” and your facials were spot on!


35- DuPage Shrek AND Kane Shrek35) DuPage- Shrek AND Kane- Shrek

One of the things I LOVE about being able to shoot all the shows is getting to see the same show multiple times.  Different directors have different visions and use what they have to create a new element to the shows.  This is the same song, but staged differently.   Both Bethany (Newell) Miller and Rachel Iler created some amazing movement to tell the story and I loved watching it every time!


34- McHenry Into the Woods IMG_080834) McHenry- Into the Woods Jr.

I loved the staging in this opening scene.  With the narrator in the foreground the focus easily went from him, to the characters he was speaking about with a simple change of light.





33- NW Cook Talls IMG_453933) NW Cook- Great American Tall Tales

My second favorite song from this show.  I’m a sucker for a group of men singing a beautiful song.  I also really liked the lighting and the use of the light up hammers as a special effect.


32- Lake Charlie Brown IMG_084032) Lake- You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

I have shot Charlie Brown several times in different counties, and this is the first time the blanket dance was done with the kids AS the blankets.  It was really creative and fun to watch!


31- Aurora Tarzan IMG_214731) Aurora- Tarzan

The lighting.  MAN!  The special effects!  GAH!!!


30- McHenry Into the Woods_MG_969030) McHenry- Into the Woods Jr.

Again, I loved the staging in this show.  And Hannah’s expressions as Cinderella were so good!


29- DuPage High School Musical _MG_199529) DuPage- High School Musical

Haven’t we all had this issue?  Do we change who we are to please others, or stay true to ourselves and be the person God made us to be?  It’s a constant struggle for me which is why I loved this moment between father and son.


28- Aurora Seussical _MG_708928) Aurora- Seussical

Keith Mankowski as Horton and Sophie Hauser as Gertrude had such great chemistry.  Maybe I’m a sucker for the background/foreground blur but I loved how the Mr. and Mrs. Mayor were highlighted so you could see them when they were talking to Horton.


27- Rockford Poppins F1527) Rockford- Mary Poppins

I LOVE a good silhouette and these are very iconic moments created by the directing team and lighting designers.


26- Aurora Aladdin IMG_1764 2 FB26) Aurora- Aladdin

I really liked the use of 5 narrators in this production of Aladdin.  Their voices blended beautifully and it created a new element in the show.  This shot was cool because the use of the scrim in the prologue helped to show the city of Agrabah yet the focus was on the vocalists.  Nice job!


25- Kane Millie _MG_655625) Kane- Thoroughly Modern Millie

Hair, Makeup, Costmes, Sets, Lighting, Actors…..It’s all there.  LOVED watching this scene!


24- LAke Charlie Brown _MG_467024) Lake- You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

Ellory and Aviya were so funny as 3 and 4!  Their facial expressions were so funny and whenever they came on stage, I couldn’t help but watch to see what they were going to do next.  Great job being in character ladies!

23- NW Cook Les Mis IMG_0096 edit23) NW Cook- Les Miserables

Such a strong moment.   This one frame showed the obstacles that Eponine had to cross…first she had to get through the barricade, then she had to make her way through the students, and finally she finished her journey in the arms of the one she loved.  So sad…. And well executed by Danielle Klein, Jason Schmidt, Marcus Canada and the rest of the Students.


22 Rockford Fiddler _MG_386622) Rockford- Fiddler on the Roof

LOVED this moment!  The Fiddler playing while Tevye discusses “Tradition” with the audience.  The coolest part is they’re real life siblings!


21- Aurora Tarzan _MG_569621) Aurora- Tarzan

The use of a fish net for a spider web and flying the spider was very effective!  The stage picture created in this scene was beautiful and Jane’s (Rylie Orphan) reaction to seeing Tarzan (Gab Harder) for the first time is priceless.


20- McHenry Oklahoma _MG_508420) McHenry- Oklahoma

Jud.  Man what a great character!  Aidan McCarthy’s portrayal of Jud Fry was engaging and creepy at the same time.  He did a great job with “Lonely Room.”


19- Kane Millie _MG_500619) Kane- Thoroughly Modern Millie

Mrs. Meers’ crew was hilarious!


tale of two inez18) Oak Park- Hairspray AND Lake – Hairspray

Lil Inez is such a sassy role and Brooke Toliver  and Claire Hough were spectacular!  Those girls have some pipes!


17- NW Cook Godspell _MG_833017) NW Cook- Godspell

Spotlight is such a wonderful place for siblings to do something together.  In this scene, Steven Moerschel had his moment to shine while big brother Joe looked on.  Brings a tear to my eyes to see how supportive siblings are of each other and this image captures that.  I love what Spotlight can be for kids.


16- Aurora Aladdin _MG_607116) Aurora- Aladdin

No this is not a trick image, nor is it a composite.  I just happened to be at the right angle at the right time to capture this moment of the snake charmers. Awesome stage picture created by the directors!


15- Oak Park Annie _MG_140515) Oak Park- Annie

When Annie (Ellie Kate Loftus) talks about her locket with Mr. Warbuck (Caden Marshall), we start to see that “if you love them, let them go” saying come to life.  Caden and Ellie Kate did a nice job at connecting to the emotion of the scene.





14- Lake Camp Rock IMG_053314) Lake- Camp Rock

This scene was such a wonderful stage picture!  I loved that within the choreography, the audience could see the personalities of the different camps in the movement and this final pose was spot on.



13- NW Cook Les Mis IMG_743213) NW Cook- Les Miserables

I just wanted to join in with Enjolras (Marcus Canada).  So captivating and perfect flag placement!


12- Kane Shrek _MG_016312) Kane- Shrek

I have photographed Shrek four counties, and seen the show 16ish times. I really enjoyed the addition of the extra dancers to create more chaos during the rescue of Princess Fiona.  It helps to add depth to the scene.


11- NW Cook Godspell _MG_885011) NW Cook- Godspell

I was blown away by the emotion that each kid on stage put into his or her character during Cook’s Godspell.  In this moment, Megan Giromini was brought to tears and the prayer in her expression, was so tender and sweet.


10- Orland Park Tom Sawyer 20000078410) Orland Park- Tom Sawyer

This was a great moment all together.  Lighting, Staging, sets…all came together beautifully.


9- DuPage Frog and Toad _MG_53499) DuPage- Frog and Toad

No words;)


8- Rockford Fiddler baby8) Rockford- Fiddler on the Roof

As a mom, this moment hit my heart closer this time.   Tevye’s memories of his baby growing up brought me to tears.


7- NW Cook Les Mis IMG_97817) NW Cook- Les Miserables

This moment of foreshadowing was a great choice by the directors and well executed by the lighting designer.  Very touching and emotional.


6- McHenry Into the Woods _MG_01746) McHenry- Into the Woods

Payten Romig and Emme Jones were wonderfully paired in this “Mother/daughter” stage duo.  They connected and played off of each other like pros.


5- Auorora Tarzan _MG_27205) Aurora- Tarzan

The character development in Tarzan (Gab Harder) and Jane (Rylie Orphan) was beautiful to watch.  Each trying to fit in to one anothers worlds, but realizing that they just need to be themselves to be happy created an interesting dynamic and powerful message for the audience.



4- NW Cook Les Mis F154) NW Cook- Les Miserables

I had to do a series of images here to get the whole picture because it was too funny to leave out!  I don’t think it needs a caption.  Jon Mickel as Thenardier and Cuyler Marshall as Javert.


3- DuPage High School Musical _MG_17313) DuPage- High School Musical

Money Shot


2- Rockford Sound of Music Eidleweiss _MG_07302) Rockford- Sound of Music

Edelweiss has a special place in my heart.  My Grandma use to sing it to me when I was upset, and now I sing it (although not as good as the kids can), to my son.  Noah did a beautiful job with this song and it touched my heart every time I heard him sing it.


1- Orland Park Final Point IMG_88301) Orland Park- Tom Sawyer

This is the final point of Orland Park’s Tom Sawyer taken at the end of the closing show.  I think it shows, that no matter what, give the glory to God always, even when facing uncertainty of the future.  Way to go Orland Park!  I can’t wait to see what God has in store for your county and for each of you.

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Welcome to our new Area Coordinators!

Brenna Baker: Orland Park and Will County

Spotlight has held a special place in my family’s heart from the moment we saw our first show more than 8 years ago.  My Screenshot 2015-08-18 09.51.01children hoped and prayed for a location to come to the southlands, and here we are! I have been active in Orland/Will County since its very first summer camp.  Aiding for classes as well as “learning the production ropes” on various committees from Greenroom to Costumes to Production Assistant has been a wonderful experience, but the best part has been all of the wonderful friends our family has made throughout the entire Spotlight community!   My children, Noah and Rachel, have thrived in this loving and Christ-centered environment.   I am eager to help Coordinate our County and serve others through Spotlight.  Though Orland/Will may be small, we are mighty and have faith that through Him we will continue to grow!  Kristen Ozinga and I complement each other well and are excited to begin our journey as the new AC team for Orland/Will!

Kristen Ozinga: Orland Park and Will County

I am so excited to be representing the Orland/Will chapter of Spotlight as co-AC!  Although my daughter and I haven’t been involved with Spotlight for long (this fall will be our first ‘anniversary’), it’s been long enough to know that we love it!  I have watched Jazmine, my daughter, grow and mature before my eyes as she’s developed a new confidence in her gifts and abilities. She’s been mentored by the older kids and has encouraged the younger ones. This is where the magic of Spotlight happens, in these quiet moments where relationships are fostered and faith is deepened. Spotlight is such a unique program; it’s like a theater troupe and church youth group combined into one.  Where else can kids use their creativity to bring glory to God?!  What I lack in experience, I will make up for in enthusiasm! I’m thrilled to be working with Brenna as we work to grow our county.  I ask for your prayers as I do my best to encourage and love your kids!

Suzanne Reeves: Aurora

I have been a fan of Spotlight ACs for years! Having directed 12 shows for CYT/Spotlight, taught multiple classes, Audition Workshops and Showcase Directed, I have long known that while the audience enjoys the show, the real magic happens behind the scenes. I am so excited to be joining the ranks of the magic makers and am looking forward to doing everything I can to help our teachers excel and our directors bring our wonderful shows to life.Screenshot 2015-08-18 09.51.25
I have been involved in theater since I was 4 and have done everything from acting, dancing, writing and directing, in church, community theater, semi-professional theater, film, video and am a professional playwright and published author. I’m also a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, can walk on my hands and am a pretty mean Scrabble player.
By God’s grace, far too many jelly bellies and Diet Coke, I hope to do honor to the AC position as well as the incredible women who have set the standard so high. Are you ready, Aurora? Saddle up and Yahoo Buckaroos!!

Liz Carrera: Oak Park

I am so excited to serve the families of Oak Park as their new Area Coordinator.  Spotlight has been a huge part of our lives since my daughter auditioned for her first show, Annie, in the fall of 2009. So, it seems only appropriate that my first show as an Area Coordinator will be Annie! After that first show, we were hooked! My kids have gone on to perform in 18 shows.  I have been AC Assistant for the last five years and my husband happily chaired sets for five years as well!  Spotlight has meant so much to our family. I have three kids who are excited to see another season start, and a fourth who is a recent Spotlight grad. This program has given my children skills and friendships that they will carry with them for a lifetime. I love being part of a community that builds character, both off and on the stage. I am so glad that in Spotlight, we have found a safe and encouraging community that loves the Lord and gives Him the glory always. I can’t wait to start this new adventure with all of the amazing Oak Park families!!!Screenshot 2015-08-18 09.55.00

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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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