Just before rehearsal on The Theatre Bug stage, the kids are typical children. They are boisterous, chattering, playing, and sipping juice boxes. When they step onto the stage they become actors and actresses, taking their roles with the serious demeanor of the Lunts and the Barrymores. The production is “The Barefoot Children in the City of Ward,” and it promises to be dynamic.
“Inside the gates of Ward lies an incredible city made up only of children. In reality, it is the children’s ward of ‘Nation’s Hospital’ one of the best pediatric facilities in the world” (credit). The children range in ages from four to twenty years of age. There is laughter and mirth, but there is also death and disease. It is an important production, one that those onstage take somberly.
The production is in collaboration with Gilda's Club; donations support cancer treatment, support, and education. All of the actors are aware of this, and it not only helps them understand something scary, explains Theatre Director Cori Laemmel, the production and donations teach the children to use their talents and hard work to reach out and help others.
This is six-year-old Audrey Weedman’s first time to act onstage. “I like it because it’s fun,” she says, “and I like to honor the people who are sick.” She takes her role as “Little” very seriously. At twenty, Molly Fox as "Tennessee" is the eldest in the group; she did theatre as a teen and says she was “lucky enough to meet” Theatre Director Cori Laemmel, who founded The Theater Bug. Both Emily Lohora and Gus O’Brien are both eight years old and love being onstage. They understand the premise of this production. “I feel like the hard work we’re doing helps the sick kids get help and medicine they need,” Emily explains. Gus chimes in, “I wanted to do something different with my life, but for a charity this time.”
Liliana Gomez will be nine years old this August and the theatre bug has bitten her. “It’s a way to express feelings and thoughts,” she says of acting. “You have to fit into your character, make it fit, but you can have fun, too.” Robin-August Fritsch agrees with her chum. “I’m doing this because I really want to meet people,” she says. “And acting can express who you are.”
You won’t see bad behavior or negative attitudes with this group. There are no stage parents fuming backstage. Director Cori Laemmel says, “This is a great bunch of kids. I am so proud of them! They work together, compliment one another, and help each other out.” She gives an example of how one of the actors has two school friends whose mothers were recently diagnosed with cancer. The production has given this child the skills to know what to say to their friend and how to say it. “They understand terminal illness and sickness is scary, but at the same time how to find hope and laughter.” There are several affected children in the production, “And they’ve helped us on writing and presenting the play” to make it realistic. One of those youngsters has beaten cancer twice before his teenage years.
The lights are up and Director “Miss Cori” Laemmel calls out loudly, “I love all of you! You’re doing great! Places and let’s go!” A rowdy eight-year-old who could not stay still is now onstage and unrecognizable; he has gotten into character so well. He begins his lines and magic starts. This is the beauty of theatre, and the beauty of children reaching out to heal.
(“The Barefoot Children in the City of Ward” runs Jan. 31 to Feb. 10, 2013 at The Theatre Bug, 2618 Gallatin, Nashville TN. Shows are Thursday and Friday at 7:00pm, Saturdays 2:00pm & 7:00pm, and on Sundays 2:00pm. Tickets should be purchased in advance. For tickets go HERE. For more information on The Theatre Bug go HERE. The Theatre Bug is a nonprofit group and welcomes all children.)
All photos by J. Yates
Photo of J. Yates credit