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UpStage Players - celebrating 20 years of youth in the arts

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The Walsh family has been bringing theatre to kids since 1994. Celebrating 20 years of youth in the arts, UpStage Players works with an extended group of individuals and their community to grow awareness of the performing arts. To quote their website, “At UpStage, ‘we work for the kids.’”

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The all-volunteer staff includes the help of parents and professionals such as photographers and grant writers. Running the ship are Bernadette Walsh (Executive Director), Carrie N. Walsh-Hilf (Artistic Director), Kris Walsh (Choreographer/Marketing Director), Matt Orgavan (Assistant Marketing Director), Edwin Smith (Communication Director) and Bud Hilf (Stage Manager/Technical Director).

“I get the opportunity to work with my family and with my kids now that they are old enough to participate. I get the chance to pass some of my love of theatre on to other children. Maybe none of them go on to do theatre ever again (but a few alums are having a go at it professionally), but what I really want is for them to appreciate theatre and to go see shows,” says Bud Hilf.

With the 20th anniversary, there will be plenty to do. The production this year is the Stephen Schwartz / John-Michael Tebelak musical “Godspell”. “As a tribute for 20 years of doing this, we will hold a gala celebration for the entire weekend, but [there will be special attention on] opening night,” says Hilf. “Alumni will be invited back and some will perform. Opening night will be the introduction of our new home the Nottingham-Memorial Library, site of the old Villa Angela High School. We will have the seating capacity of 400, which is an increase of 200 seats from our last venue. March 22 will be a salute to Kiwanis Club of Cleveland, which has come on board to support the group as well to help finance the production.”

Serving a diverse group of young people aged 7-15 from Northeast Ohio, UpStage Players reaches out to everyone, including children with special needs. UpStage also has a "no-cut policy" so that any child that wants to participate can do so. “Feature roles are changed each year so everyone gets a chance. A fee is not charged to participate and we are now applying for performing arts grants. Cast size has increased and alumni are returning to either help or have their children participate,” notes Hilf.

With a cast of over 60, UpStage’s production of “Godspell” is certainly inclusive. But UpStage isn’t just about performances. “An improv group meets regularly throughout the year - parents, teens and interested friends. Participants bring a pot luck dish and enjoy a time of fellowship. We also do one workshop a year in November before auditions. This is held to help in areas such as learning about general theatre, how to audition better, and to be comfortable with theatre participation,” says Hilf.

Past UpStage productions include “Camelot” (1995), “Annie” (1996), “Godspell” (1997), “The Wiz” (1998), “Fiddler on the Roof” (1999), “West Side Story” (2000), “Singing in the Rain” (2001), “Hello, Dolly” (2002), “Jesus Christ Superstar” (2003), “Annie Jr” (2004), “Grease” (2005), “Guys & Dolls” (2006), “The Wiz” (2007), “Into the Woods” (2008), “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (2009), “Aladdin” (2010), “Seussical” (2011), “West Side Story” (2012), and “The Little Mermaid” (2013).

For more information on UpStage Players, visit their website at www.upstageplayers.com and friend them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/UpStagePlayers. Get involved, donate, enjoy the show! Performances take place at the Cleveland Public Library Memorial-Nottingham branch, which is located at 17109 Lake Shore Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44110.

The landmark production of "Godspell" will take place on March 21 and 22, 2014 with a matinee on Sunday, March 23. Tickets may be ordered online by going to the UpStage Players website at www.upstageplayers.com. Tickets are $8.00 in advance or $12.00 at the door.

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