A Day to Remember- By Vera Brown

Check out the blog below from our very own Elle Woods, Vera Brown in our upcoming production, Legally Blonde Jr.! Thank you Vera for taking the time to share with us what your experience working with Laura Bell Bundy was like when she visited SDP!

February 20, I started my day so nervous that I was sweating profusely and my legs were bouncing so intensely the table beneath me shook. The cast of Legally Blonde and I were about to meet Laura Bell Bundy, not only an extremely talented woman to whom I have looked up to for years but also the woman who originated the role of Elle Woods on Broadway. This in itself made me so excited and scared at the same time that an almost surreal feeling overtook me. I got cast as Elle and now I’m meeting the original Elle? It doesn’t get much better than that.

I knew I had to keep my cool, but when she entered the building through that back door and came into the dressing room my inner fangirl was shaking, screaming, and hyperventilating. I was so excited that I was having a hard time staying calm. I was so scared I would say something weird or wrong and she would get sick of me - which is an irrational fear but one I sure did have that day.

I don’t know what I was expecting when she came in the theatre to talk I always think of famous people as uppity but she was so down to earth and it was quite relieving. This only made my admiration for her grow. It was an incredible experience to get to talk to her about the show and be myself I’m pretty sure if she hadn’t seemed so nice before she even talked I would have been too terrified to engage in conversation, but she was so easy to talk to and doing character work with her was amazing. She helped me think about things in my character that I hadn’t ever considered before.

She really went in depth with what was in the script, what we did on stage, and why we did it. She really helped me grow in connecting my actions on stage to my inner feelings, we took the time to analyze the script and the words we were singing and why we walked across stage at this moment and why we hugged at that moment. It was such an eye opening moment and I will definitely carry it with me in theatre and in my personal life in the future.

My favorite moment of the entire night though, was when she told me she was proud of me after we performed “So Much Better.” I couldn’t believe someone so talented thought that I was good enough for her to compliment and I had to take a moment to tell myself, “This is real.” I was so nervous performing for her but that feeling subsided and I was soon way more excited than nervous to show her what we’d done because she was so supportive and you could tell she wanted us to succeed and do the best we could do. She taught me so much and helped me grow a lot on the short time we had with her and I am so grateful that we got the opportunity to work with her, I will definitely cherish this night for the rest of my life.

Blog Photo.jpg
LBB Event-A edit DSC_8781-X3.jpg

"Lean into the Love"- by Abi Crigler

Recently I had the opportunity to have breakfast with SDP Alum, Abi Crigler when she was home on a break from college. Throughout the conversation we kept coming back to one topic, kindness. Most people would think that two theatre people might be discussing parts or the negative things that come with the territory of a show…but not with Abi. That’s one of the things I love about Abi. When she and I get together and talk its always about celebrating someone’s success or their growth. At the end of our breakfast I asked her if she would consider being a guest blogger and share her experience with kindness in the theatrical world. -Lindsay Kelly

When I was just starting out in theatre, I was that kid. We ALL know that kid. I was too loud, perpetually off-key, and quite frankly a brat to most everyone, and though I was essentially flat Sprite personified, the one thing I remember wanting more than anything was for people to like me. I wanted to feel popular and beloved and talented. I wanted to feel like I was more than the bespectacled nerd every ten year old feels trapped as.

As I grew up, I found that these feelings were not unique to me. I found that, in fact, almost everyone felt that way and still feels that way sometimes, and it made me wonder why, if we’ve all experienced this, don’t we try a little harder to do for each other what we all want. Why don’t we try to like each other and know each other more?

So, as any hopelessly dramatic middle schooler does when coming to an existential conclusion, I decided to try and change. Slowly but surely, I began acting less like every kid that dies in Willy Wonka and more like a person who knows we are all on this struggle bus together. I started talking to more people and tried to include them in my life. I started listening a bit more and shouting about how great people are, instead of how bad life is. I began to love people and, in turn, my life.

Anything good I may have done in anyone else’s life somehow managed to enrich mine tenfold. At SDP alone, the people I thought I was helping and mentoring and loving were actually much more significantly helping, mentoring, and loving me. Marianna Luce wrote me a thank you note for my note during Shrek Jr. that had precisely the encouraging words I needed to hear right when I needed to hear them (may or may not have cried in the bathroom because of it). The Studio Boys in Hairspray Jr. gave some hilarious input on my college applications during rehearsal breaks, making something extremely daunting somehow fun. Henry Hartmann being my backstage dance partner, hype man, and friend has lifted my spirit on many a rough day. These fantastic humans, plus the million more we are fortunate to have a part of the SDP company, are bursting with love and remind me of the best I can be all the time now.

This being said, I also know people can be the most messy business of all, and it is really not easy (I used to basically be the human version of Dial Up Internet, so I know). They snap at us for what feels like no reason. They ignore us, exclude us. They can be just outright mean. But, being a person is probably the most difficult thing any of us will ever try to do, and we will almost certainly screw it up at one point or another too. We will snap at the people we love. We will be selfish and exclusive. We will sometimes just be outright mean. We will hurt other people in the same way others have hurt us. Its simply a reality of life.

However, this reality doesn’t mean we are confined to just these things and mistakes. We are also people with a capacity to love deeply, care passionately, and forgive tremendously. We can and have to give people the grace to be people and the love and the support they need because we will all need that at some point. We need to do our best to focus our energy on being all those good things to each other because life is so much tougher for us and them when we don’t. We need to lean into the love and light and joy we have and recognize the grace we all need.

Today, I am still too loud, now a recovering tone deaf, and, I hope, significantly less of a brat, but I still really want to be liked…like everyone. The only imperfect advice I can offer about getting along with people is to remember we all want to be liked and that we all will really mess up and don’t deserve it all of the time. Keeping that in mind, we should try to help and love and like each other as much as we can to make it through. You may even get some really incredible friends out of it. Love you and good luck.

-Abi Crigler


"You Won’t Regret Signing up for the SDP camps!"- By Jill Klosky

Our family has had wonderful experiences with Stage Door Productions Summer Camps, and I highly recommend them to anyone. In one short week, your child will audition for a kid’s version of a musical, rehearse, and put on a show the last day of the camp week (Friday evening at 5:30). The performances are open to the community and pay-what-you-can. There are also internship opportunities for rising 9th graders and up. Camps do fill up quickly, so I would recommend “liking” Stage Door Productions on Facebook, so that you can keep up with the enrollment dates and times. Here’s why you won’t regret signing your child up:

You will never be involved in another activity for your child that is so organized. The directors, Lindsay and Brandon Kelly have the camps planned far in advance. The interns and staff are excellent about communicating in a timely fashion. They are enthusiastic, prepared and punctual. Safety is a priority, and designated pickup people must show ID’s at each pickup (no matter how well they know you!).

Good hours for camps.  Over the summer, many of us are in search of an enriching, safe, and fun environment for our kids. For working parents, those 9AM – 2 PM camps are really tough. These camps run 9-5 (with extended hours available).

Great shows! It is absolutely amazing what your child can learn in one short week. At the end of the shows, audience members are often looking at each other laughing in amazement because they cannot believe what these kids have accomplished in just one week. Furthermore, hearing the children’s screams of glee at the end of the productions are guaranteed to warm your heart every time.

They achieve that elusive balance. What I’m talking about here is that balance that is so hard to find with extracurricular activities: of working hard + proper training + making it fun. Somehow, they do it! Both directors have extensive theater backgrounds, as well as experience working with kids. The campers really have a blast, even those who are not necessarily “theater kids.” SDP camps allow young people to grow and benefit from positive exposure to the arts. Perhaps your child will pursue a career in the performing arts, and if so, they will definitely gain some valuable lessons. Of course, most of our kids won’t grow up to be performers; however, perhaps with their camp experience, they might feel more confident with public speaking at school. Maybe they will learn about working as a team. Perhaps they will meet a new friend from a different walk of life. The beauty of it lies in that the kids don’t even realize they are learning and growing because they are too busy having fun.

Meeting your child where they’re at.  While the aim of the camp is to put on a show at the end of the week, the directors and interns are realistic and prioritize a positive experience over perfectionism. Although the kids do carry the responsibility for learning their part, the staff might make little adjustments, as needed, to make the experience a positive one. It’s camp, after all, not Carnegie Hall! Several years ago, when our son was 9 years old, he was having difficulty keeping up with his many props during the rehearsals. The SDP team members appropriately offered to remove a few of them, so that he could relax, feel confident, and enjoy the performance. Interns perform in the shows beside some of the younger kids to help them feel comfortable, and gently provide a little direction if needed.

SDP is a fabulous organization and Lindsay and Brandon Kelly are true gems for our city and our youth. For our son, camps have been an entry into the regular season shows during the year. Not only does he absolutely love the camps, but he simply feels at home at Stage Door. I believe the reason kids love Stage Door so much, is that they know that when they are there, they are accepted just as they are, and welcomed to simply be themselves. All that in a summer camp! What more can you ask for?


My #SDPstory: Julius Dancy


We live in a world that makes us feel incompetent, frightened, and in self-denial of who we are and what we can become. Adapting to these things allows no space for change. This was me before January 7, 2017. On that day I walked into Stage Door Productions to audition for my first play not knowing that experience alone would change my life. On that day I stepped out on faith and watched wonders happen before my eyes. I've been working with Stage Door for nine months and I've never seen so much love, passion, and structure demonstrated in one place and being taught with so much generosity.

Stage Door is my foundation in many ways other than just building a career in musical theatre, but this company has impacted my way of life. Stage Door as a company has guided me in the right direction, and it gave me a place to be myself on and off stage. Mr. Brandon and Mrs. Lindsay Kelly have built this shelter for children to showcase their talent and it is more than inspiring.

The day-to-day lessons they teach and the powerful words of truth and encouragement is what makes SDP the kind of place it is today. Mr. and Mrs. Kelly take their productions to the next level and it showed me the power behind a passion. They have allowed unique children who come from different backgrounds be together on a stage and make art and do it so gracefully.

Staying in this environment changed my demeanor and it kept me grounded and willing to push even harder to do and be more for this company. Stage Door has done many great things out of love, but one event that touched me was in September when we stopped in the middle of our Hairspray Jr. rehearsal to help the Memphis Salvation Army load goods for those in need during Hurricane Harvey. It was emotional to see each of us being given a role off stage and completing a small task with just as much love and passion as we do on stage.

I have been astonished everyday with Stage Door Productions and its remarkable mentors. The more I grow with Stage Door the more I understand my purpose and responsibility in life.  SDP is confidence, it's love, and it's growth. Everything that SDP is I have become. Being able to be a part of such a family is phenomenal, and my experiences at this wonderful place only prove the worth of its people and the goal to be the change they want to develope in the world. 


"SDP Summer Camp Saves the Day" by Kirsten Howell

What is your “happy place?” The place that brings you joy, where you want to be. It's a popular phrase. I've seen it on decorative pillows and plaques-- “The beach is my happy place.” Or the lake, or anywhere your heart desires. My daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, found her happiest place at Stage Door Productions at the Kroc Center during Summer camp. 

This sweet, smart, hard working child of mine had yet to find her place. Her “thing” if you will. She is a great student and gets along well with her peers, but something was missing. She had a visceral reaction to the suggestion that she join a competitive soccer team in third grade, even though she is a decent player. It seemed that many of her school friends had found their passions, but she was not particularly interested in the competitive world of travel sports, dance, or gymnastics. She was a home body, and loved nothing more than curling up with a good book on the weekends. I knew she would benefit from an activity where she would have fun, be challenged, and make new friends, and as luck would have it, she was cast in her 4th grade school play. She seemed to have been bitten by the theater bug afterward, and I was thrilled that she had found an activity that she enjoyed, but the school only has one play per year. I needed to find a place for her to explore this new found passion!  Being new to the theater world, we were a bit intimidated, and not sure where to begin. I knew it could be fierce, and I never fancied myself a “stage mom” type, but she was enthusiastic about theater, and she needed this. After asking around about local children's theater opportunities, a friend told us about Stage Door Productions. The timing was perfect for us to sign up for SDP Summer camp so we could get a taste of what it is like, and little did we know the lasting impact that it would have! 

After her first day at Annie, Kids. camp I knew she was hooked. The smile on her face when I picked her up was priceless. It was absolutely worth having to listen to the Annie soundtrack on loop for what seemed like 24 hours a day. These wonderful people saw something in her that no one else had! In this place, she seemed to be relieved of all of the pressure that she puts on herself and she learned how to have fun! They didn't care if she made straight A's or that she was shy--they saw who she was, and who she could be! A fire had been ignited, and I knew we had found something very special. 

I was struck by how welcoming the SDP team was. They went to great lengths to ensure the safety and happiness of the campers throughout the week. They worked hard, had fun, and managed to perform a full show, complete with props, costumes, and set in front of a sold out theater with only 5 days of preparation from audition to showtime! It was incredible! This shy child of mine was on a stage in front of 300 + people singing and dancing with 60 new friends and having the time of her life! In August following that camp, she was cast in her first musical production with SDP. As we arrived at the Kroc for the first rehearsal she could hardly contain her excitement and exclaimed,” I'm so happy to be back,” as she got out of the car. Its exciting to see her so excited! 

How do they do it? I am still mystified by this, but I can tell you what I have observed a full show season and 3 camps later:

  • Lindsay and Brandon Kelly have created a dynamic environment that fosters love, confidence, discipline, work ethic, friendship and teamwork. What more could a parent ask for? SDP has essentially become an extension of our family, my daughter's education, and is critical to her character development. 
  • Stage Door Productions Interns absolutely rock!! These young people, who are 14 years old and older, could spend their Summer sleeping late and hanging out by the pool, but they enthusiastically choose to be at SDP, working countless hours planning, choreographing, coordinating and directing from sun up to sun down! They are counselors, mentors, big brothers and sisters and great friends. I could not hand pick a better group of role models for my child, and I am so grateful for the positive influence that they are for her!
  • Stage Door Productions Camp is safe. Of course, it is safe in the literal sense, in that you must sign your child in at camp every morning and show your driver's license every afternoon at pick up time. Campers wear an SDP wristband and are supervised at all times. It is a nut free environment, so those with allergies are free from worry in that regard. It is also a safe place for your child to try something new. It is a safe place for them to completely mess up and learn how to try again! It is safe in that your child will be loved by everyone at SDP -- Interns, directors, SDP kids and parents! Brandon and Lindsay take the well being of the SDP kids very seriously. They keep up with the kids on social media and hold them to a high standard of behavior. They encourage them in school and insist that they keep up with their studies. An all around win-win! 
  • Stage Door Productions Camp is the best deal in town! A week of camp from 9-5, with before and after care for a ridiculously low price- talk about bang for your buck!!!
  • On August 5, 2017, I sat in amazement as I watched 70 + children of all ages storm the stage at the Kroc Center to be in a wedding picture with their beloved mentors and teachers, Lindsay and Brandon Kelly, who had just exchanged vows. At the reception, I laughed with Lindsay about how her wedding reception had been hijacked by SDP children. Not surprisingly, she replied that she would not have it any other way. This is exactly what I love most about SDP. The more people in this world to love my child, the better. As my daughter approaches her 12th birthday and all that goes along with being a pre-teen, I cannot imagine a better environment for her to learn, laugh and love outside of home and school than SDP. 
  • Bonus: The atmosphere is not fiercely competitive among performers or parents. It is quite the opposite! This community rallies around each child and encourages them. These kids are excited for each other when they get cast in ensembles and leading roles alike! They support each other and make each other better. Trust me when I tell you there is nothing else like it in Memphis! And the parents are awesome- no crazy stage mom drama here! 

Next month, after Hairspray Jr., wraps, we begin rehearsals for Lifetime of Christmas, which will be her fifth regular season production with SDP. Yes- I said “we,” as in my daughter AND me. I, an uncoordinated middle aged woman with no particular ability for singing or dancing, have never performed anything in my life; however, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in a show with our SDP family and my little girl. She is not shy anymore. She is brave and strong.... and extremely happy, in large part because of this wonderful company. What started as an interest in Summer camp has blossomed into a full fledged passion for performing arts, and has opened our hearts and minds to a new world we never knew existed in our own backyard! If you think your child would benefit from new friends, positive role models, discipline, loads of fun and laughs, but you aren't sure where to start, you need to take a look at SDP Summer camps... you never know where it will lead! #SDPFamily

"When Plans Change" by Captain Shelley Bell

During the summer of 2015, our family was transferred from Clearwater, FL to Memphis, TN. Emma, our daughter, was then 12 years old. We had planned for her to work on unpacking her room, getting settled and ready for school for the duration of that summer. Doesn’t that sound fun?! But, thankfully, we were led around on a tour of the Kroc Center when those plans changed. Emma loved to sing and act, and so when we walked into the Kroc Center Theater and met Lindsay and Brandon, Emma was intrigued. They spoke about their summer camps going on and one of them fit right into Emma’s empty summer schedule. That summer camp, “Aladdin,” changed everything. Emma was hooked! She was poured into by the directors and interns that summer, and she went from knowing no one in her new city to being part of a family. The SDP Family.

The next Spring she was able to be a part of the SDP production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Here, she learned to exercise many lessons within her new family: responsibility, attitude, energy and kindness. We weren’t sure if this would be something Emma would want to dedicate so much time to, but boy were we wrong! She looked forward to every rehearsal, and the next year—she signed up and auditioned for every show possible! We could tell her passion and heart were engaged because of how dedicated and energized she was for each show. Each one becoming a special part of her heart and life. Shrek, Aladdin, and Cinderella all took her to different places and can be counted as some of her best memories now and forever. Each show and cast growing her into a more confident and committed actor.

The following summer she was accepted into the internship program at SDP, and she’s never been happier to spread her love of theater and theater community to the next generation. This mom got a tear in her eye as she watched Emma dance and sing last summer with little ones right next to her watching her every move. She got to pour into those kids what was poured into her two years prior. From that one week of summer camp, to main season shows, to internship—SDP truly is a family we feel so privileged to be a part of. We’ve witnessed such immense joy and confidence being built up in our teenager, that we will be forever grateful. Though known as “Emma’s parents,” we are all proud members of that SDP family, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Captain Shelley Bell, Emma Bell, and Captain Zach Bell at the last cast party of SDP's Summer 2017

Captain Shelley Bell, Emma Bell, and Captain Zach Bell at the last cast party of SDP's Summer 2017

Junior Theatre Festival: A Student's Perspective by Abi Crigler

Junior Theatre Festival: A Student's Perspective

If you would've asked me this past December what JTF was, I would not have been able to tell you. I probably would've guessed it was some thing the kids were saying these days like "LOL" or "OMG." (I'm obviously a very in-touch teenager) I would not have known that those three letters symbolized a weekend of magic and laughter, beauty and storytelling, and most of all theatre. JTF stands for the Junior Theatre Festival.

I was asked over email if I would be interested in joining Stage Door's JTF-bound Annie Jr. as an orphan/maid. After much investigative googling, I discerned that this was an amazing opportunity. Broadway celebs? Newsies premiere?? Beautiful theatre friends??? What more could a theatre geek dream of? The fact that I would finally get to play an orphan in the show I've always loved (but assumed I had aged out of at 5"11) was just the delicious buttercream icing on the cake. However, when we got into rehearsals, I discovered something I personally find to be less-than-stellar: we were going to be judged.

People judging me makes me incredibly nervous, not cute "butterflies-in-the-stomach" kind of nervous, more "a-wasps-nest-just-exploded-in-my-stomach" nervous. My heartbeat is actually escalating while I'm writing about it. When I realized our performance was to be judged by a panel of performing arts professionals and then compared to others, I began to panic a little (ok, maybe a lot) and was sure that somehow I would be singled out as the failure in our group. On our way down to Atlanta, throughout hilarious games and impromptu sing-a-longs, the thought of judgement ate at me in the back of my mind. I had complete faith in my cast mates' talent and practice, but less than zero in my own. But once we got into the facility Friday things began to change.

At Stage Door, their main goal is to teach their actors how to tell a story, and they do a wonderful job of it. In our Friday rehearsal, as we were all replaced in new positions to accommodate the smaller place in which we were to perform, I was again reminded of this. As Mr. Jason and Mr. Brandon tried to focus us rambunctious kiddos in a chaotic hallway, they were quick to remind us it wasn't about positions or marks, it was about Annie and all the complex beauties of her story and all of our parts in that beauty. It didn't matter if we were technically perfect or if the music stopped (spoiler alert: it definitely did). What mattered was telling a story to our audience, connecting with them.

In every show I've ever performed in, I feel the need to prove I deserve to be there, that I'm not a failure. But that isn't what theatre is about at all. It is expressing to someone else a story. One with characters who have real emotions and hurts and happinesses. One that entertains with bright smiles and laughter when you need it the most. One where you can connect and feel a little less lonely in this crazy mess of a world. That is what theatre is about, and being reminded of this so graciously calmed every nerve in my body. I fell deep into the story of Caroline (my self-named orphan whose favorite holiday is the 4th of July because she can see the fireworks from her window and they make her feel less alone) and Mrs Pugh (a maid whose deepest love is to care for others and whose favorite color is a light lavender) and let the parts of me that connected shine through in them. It was liberating and lovely to grant myself the same positivity I throw like confetti at others through the simple magic of a story.

As the weekend ran on after our show, through the performances of upcoming productions, talks from theatre experts, and essentially everyone I met, this theme of stories continued. After being reminded of the centrality of storytelling, I began seeing its beauty everywhere. I saw it in the girl playing Rafiki as she belted "He Lives In You". I saw it in the sparkling eyes of a very happy little crab in the New Works preview of A Magic Tree House show. I saw it in the glinting starlights behind the dazzling Mary Poppins company. I saw the passion for it as Broadway directors, composers, and actors talked to us. I saw it in the heart-wrenching, lovely performance of the Newsies movie premiere. I was drinking in stories like warm apple cider, and I never wanted to end. It was incredible.

 JTF helped re-cultivate in me a love of story-telling and hence theatre. Amongst all that passion and the positive energy, I flew. The whole weekend wasn't devoted to being better than anyone or to do everything perfectly. It was devoted to support and love and connection and stories. That is what made it so beautiful and is why I would recommend it to anyone. Not only is it incredibly cool with workshops led by professionals and sneak peaks of upcoming Broadway and MTI JR shows, its a home where everyone is proud and excited for each other, where people run around trading wrist bands with new friends, where everyone bounces along to a physically-exhausting but super fun pony game, and where it is perfectly acceptable to burst out in spontaneous song and dance on your friend's shoulders (Shout out to Sydney for letting me dance on her shoulders). I hope myself to return next year (So help me, Sondheim!) and be apart of this glorious community once more because I really do think it changed me "For Good".

Abi Crigler was last seen as Fiona is SDP's production of Shrek Jr. We are very excited that she will be rejoining SDP on the main stage in our upcoming production of G2K Cinderella! Abi is a joy to work with and SDP is thrilled that she is part of the #SDPfamily!

Click Here for more information on the convention or to register for your audition slot.

Abi JTF 2.jpg

Junior Theatre Festival: A Parent's Perspective by Liz Myrick

JTF: A Parents Perspective

Lace up your running shoes and get ready for an amazing weekend.  No, I mean really lace up your running shoes if you are planning on attending JTF.   This is an action packed, non-stop weekend that will be sure to light a fire in your performer.  We made new friends, saw amazing performances, and the kids were trained by some of the best in the business. 

Our kids, along with about 5,800 others, embarked on a weekend of celebrating the transformative power of musical theatre.  Day one started with a tour of the facility and an introduction of things to come.  This was a pretty low-key day, as we were in preparation for our performance day.  Saturday started with a bang. We had breakfast followed by rehearsal, followed by adjudication, followed by workshops, followed by... I can’t even remember.  Remember those running shoes I told you about? Imagine a conference center full of children moving about like schools of fish. You feel like you have been transported into a glorious musical theatre alternate reality. 

iTheatrics (they turn full length musicals into JR versions) really knows how to put on a conference. You know any festival sponsored by Playbill, Disney Musicals, and Music Theatre International will be top notch.  We saw appearances from Tony award winners, Ahrens-and-Flaherty and author Mary Pope Osborn. We watched performances by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich (Taylor the Latte Boy).  Our weekend concluded with the movie premiere of the filmed version of the Broadway musical Newsies with appearances by the original stage director, Jeff Calhoun and choreographer, Christopher Gattelli.  We had the honor of seeing snippets of new works including, Magic Tree House: Pirates Past Noon Jr., Junie B. Jones Jr., Disney’s Mary Poppins Jr., and revamped shows such as, Disney’s 101 Dalmatians KIDS, and Jungle Book KIDS

Some of the moments that stick out to me, were during our adjudication.  Our kids performed their hearts out.  They overcame adversity, they took care of each other as performers, and they connected on a very deep level.  They learned many valuable performance lessons and discovered that being in the ensemble is a great place to be.  Even though we were competing it didn’t feel like we were.  It was nice to see kids connect with other theatre groups from across the country.  Through watching others perform, it made our kids want to be better at their craft.  Click Here to check out one of our favorite performances from a group from North Carolina. 

My child was asking to go back next year before we made it to our driveway.  She loved making new friends and seeing what possibilities lie ahead.  I strongly encourage you to attend this wonderful conference.  Be ready to work hard, play hard and make new friends.  I can’t imagine a more action packed conference for your performer to learn about, experience, and be immersed in the joys of theatre.  

Liz Myrick has been a part of Stage Door Productions for the past two seasons. You have seen her work on sets and costumes alike in Shrek Jr. and MTH: A Ghost Tale for Mr. Dickens. Liz attended JTF 17 with her daughter Vivie Myrick!

Click Here for more information on attending JTF18 with Stage Door Productions.

A Parents Perspective: 5 Reasons I Love SDP Summer Camps by Rachel Morgan

5 Reasons I Love SDP Summer Camps

Ah summer… No alarms, lazy days at the park, and time spent relaxing with our beautiful angels...yeah, right!  With the crazy days of summer rapidly approaching, most families are already thinking about where the kids are going to spend some of their time. Whether you have work commitments , are seeking educational and enrichment opportunities, or you just need a tiny bit of alone time, Stage Door Productions summer camps are a perfect option.

There are a few important criteria that I look for when evaluating summer camp programs: Will my kids learn something, are the hours of the camp convenient, is it affordable, is it a safe environment, and most importantly, will they have fun?  Stage Door Productions not only meets all of my criteria but they continually exceed it! 

First, will my children learn something new?  At Stage Door Productions' summer camp, children will be exposed to a variety of new skills.  They will learn auditioning techniques, singing with confidence, acting, and choreography.  They will learn how to trust their directors, their cast mates, and themselves.  Most importantly, they will learn how to be silly, look foolish, and have loads of fun!  Steele and Joshua love camps because they are always challenged to take their skills further.  Even as veterans of previous camps and productions there are always new things to learn!

Second, are the hours of the camp convenient for a busy parent? We all have super busy schedules and as parents we need a summer camp that understands and embraces that.  We need a summer camp that can accommodate our early mornings and our traffic riddled evening commutes.  At Stage Door Productions' summer camp, you will find an early morning program that includes staff and mentors engaging children with games, movie time, and the occasional dance party.  There is also a quiet room available where mentors can help children with audition preparation, script memorization, or musical selections.  An after- care program is also offered and usually coincides with camp check out.  Children can play, dance, sing, or just rest until picked up.  My children love before care, it is a chance to get excited and pumped up before camp officially begins for the day. 

Third, is the summer camp affordable?  With the prices of everything on the rise we all want a camp experience that provides an excellent experience for the cost.  Stage Door Productions Summer Camps are an amazing value.  Your children will have the opportunity to work with local children's theatre professionals, mentors who have years of experience participating in children's theatre, rehearse and perform in a beautiful theatre space, and present a full length children's production for family and friends at the end of the camp! It is truly a priceless experience.

Fourth, is the summer camp safe?  As a parent, my number one priority is my children's safety.  Stage Door Productions summer camps take the safety of their campers very seriously.  All staff and mentors are thoroughly vetted, trained, and have gone through an extensive interview process.  Camp check-in requires an adult to sign children in with a staff member, all campers are required to wear SDP wrist bands and name tags for identification purposes, and daily check-out requires adults to present identification before a child is released. Children are accompanied by staff and mentors at all times.  Not only does this create a safe environment but fosters the family spirit found only at Stage Door Productions summer camps.

Last and most importantly, will my children have fun?  Stage Door Productions summer camps specialize in fun!  Acting, voice, and dance classes take place daily and encourage positivity between fellow campers.  Awesome improvisation and theatre games help to get the kids warmed up and transition between activities.  Decorating props and set pieces help bring out the creativity in every child.  Group lunch time and small group discussions allow for kids to collaborate with each other and their mentors.  Steele and Joshua have made lasting friendships and had amazing mentor relationships through the Stage Door Productions' summer camp program. 

Joshua and Steele always have a million amazing things to tell me after a day of summer camp.  Sometimes they are excited to tell me about something they have learned, but often it's stories about the successes of fellow campers.  They love being a part of the Stage Door Productions family and would love to welcome your children into the family as well!

Rachel Morgan is an amazing mother of three! Her family has participated with SDP programming and summer camps for the past three years. Her entire family is a huge part of the SDP Family and we are thrilled to know each and every one of them. 


Click Here for to apply for the SDP Summer Internship

Click Here for more information on SDP Summer Camps


The Special World of Summer Camps by Sydney Prather

The Special World of Summer Camps

Teens are supposed to look forward to summer, it's in our nature. Long days in the sun with friends and, of course, a break from high school. But for me, summer is my favorite time of year for a vastly different reason. Summer means summer camp and that means getting to spend eight hours a day with my SDP family, teaching children about what I love the most.

I applied for an intern position two summers ago on a whim. I had worked with Stage Door on Annie Jr. the winter before and loved every moment of it. “What's the harm?” I thought. “I love kids, I love theater, and I love this company; of course I should try.” Little did I know what it meant when I got the internship.

A week of camp is unlike any other experience. You are face to face with at least 60 children who are all depending on you. Many of them have no prior theater experience and it isyour job to be their guidance. For that week, you are their friend and mentor, taking them on a journey to the stage on that final day, and hopefully, to a new found appreciation for the performing world. There is no time to hesitate, you must throw yourself into the deep end and trust the training you have and the knowledge you bring to give these kids the best experience possible.

When it comes to the children, it is impossible to say what you will encounter through the weeks, but the one thing I can guarantee is that you have something to teach them, and they, in turn, have something to teach you if you are willing to learn. You are put in a truly unique situation to shape a growing mind, a place normal teens rarely find themselves, and that is what makes this internship so special. I have seen children terrified to audition day one, absolutely light up during the show; children who have never had a singing role, belt their little hearts out in the rehearsal space; children who came not knowing if theater was for them, and left begging their parents to let them audition. There is no greater feeling than knowing that you were able to share such an amazing gift with the next generation of performers.

Kids are the future of the arts. We work in a business that is constantly growing and changing. Generation upon generation passes down traditions and grows and shapes the theater world we experience today. With this internship, I, and many others, have been given the opportunity to pass on what we love and prepare the incoming group to fill our shoes. Not many people, especially as high schoolers can say they were given the opportunity to make such a difference. So as the intern application opens, I hope you will consider applying. The chance to change lives is right in front of you, all you have to do is make the dive.

Sydney Prather has been performing with SDP for the past two years. She was most recently seen as the Wicked Witch in Shrek Jr. and will be representing SDP this January at the Junior Theatre Festival as Miss Hannigan in Annie Jr. In addition to interning with SDP in the summer, Sydney will also serve as Assistant Director for our upcoming production of Aladdin Jr.

Click Here for to apply for the SDP Summer Internship

Click Here for more information on SDP Summer Camps

What Theatre Has Taught Me by Oakley Weddle

As I look back on this past year, I think about all the many blessings I have received. Although, there has been rough patches on this long and twisted road, 2016 seems to be one of great importance. This has been the year that I have made the strongest friends, come closer to my family, and realized what I want to be in life.  Since it’s the time of thankfulness, I’ve decided that I’m going to express my gratitude to SDP and the theatre community itself, for teaching me life’s two biggest lessons.

In the last year, a lot has happened for me, good and bad. Well, SDP has given me a place. A place to come in and feel absolutely safe and forget for a two-hour rehearsal. I’d jump into the shoes of Mendel, the rabbi’s son, who is way over controlling and short-tempered; or I’d jump into the shoes of a big green nasty ogre, who is distant from his emotions and wants to be somebody he can’t. I think that’s an amazing thing about theatre. That not just the audience can transport into the world of the story, but the actor can devote so much of his/her emotions into the character, that they actually become it.

What I want to talk about is, what theatre means to me. When it all boils down to it. I think the biggest component to theatre is love and family. The Memphis theatre community has shown me so much love this year, and I’m eternally grateful for that. What do you have without love? A life not worth living. We have all needed love this year and it’s been given and will continue to be given next year and thousands of years after.

The family part of theatre is where SDP comes in. It’s a huge lesson I’ve learned. That lesson is that family is not just who you share blood with, it’s with who you love. What SDP is quite famous for is the SDPfamily hashtag. I think it’s incredibly genius and accurate. Being in shows with people make them your family. You spend months with them, pouring your heart out on the stage and then you have to let them go. But, no matter where you are, gone or here, you are still family.

Stage Door has always been so close to my heart, but it wasn’t until this past February when I lost my brother, Peyton, when they drew me close and loved me unconditionally. They have taught me how to live, be a better person, and realize what I want to do in life, all to honor my family and my brother. They have given me countless opportunities and have sparked my passion for the arts and loving others so much, that you would do anything for them. I don’t think there’s a better way to be thankful. #PEYitforward

 -Oakley Weddle


Oakley Weddle has been a part of the SDP Family from the very beginning. Most recently you have seen him on stage at Shrek in Shrek Jr. and Mendel/Perchik in Fiddler on the Roof. Next up Oakley will be Stage Managing Aladdin Jr. and Assistant Director for Cinderella.


Connection: My Journey with Fiddler on the Roof by Gabrielle Bray

“A Fiddler on the Roof? Dad- that’s absolutely crazy!” I was in second grade and my parents discovered that my friend and I had never been exposed to Fiddler on the Roof. As this was considered a crime to my history aficionado father, movie night was quickly arranged.

I thought it was crazy until the first number was over. Then, I sat entranced by the humor and heartbreak, the traditions and the transformations. I loved the tale and sang “Matchmaker” and “Tradition” drowsily all the way home, even though I did not yet fully understood its significance.

Only now, through working on the show have I fully begun to understand what it means. The people I have spoken to recently have opened the door for me to the people Tevye embodied.

Saturday night of How the Grinch Stole Christmas’s opening weekend, a party was thrown for everyone who had been involved. When I told the director that I was working on Fiddler on the Roof, he launched into the tale of his grandfather (or great-grandfather), who had moved from the Pale region of Russia fearing the persecution of the Czar, and arrived like so many others on Ellis Island. Today, his grandson (or great-grandson) is a director on Broadway.

I mentioned Fiddler at a youth group meeting. I received the story of how the great-grandfather and mother of one of my friends fled, like Tevye and his family, from the Cossacks and their pogroms to come to the United States, where they could practice any religion they chose without fear or shame.

My mother told me that our family was safely here, but sponsored another family’s migration from persecution in Eastern Europe to the United States.

And thus, I connected. Fiddler became not just a story or my friend’s story, but my story. Our story.

In rehearsal we worked the migration at the end of the show, and did an exercise where the cast thought about what it would have been like to leave everything we had ever known, everyone we had ever loved, the place where we, and generations before us, had grown up and made our home. We talked about tradition and how when it changes, we change. We talked about how our identity is shaped by what we believe and what we do. And we talked about leaving all that behind.

After the exercise, we ran the exodus one more time, and tears streamed down the faces of some of the actors. They realized, like me, what this show meant.

Fiddler is not just a story about history, about Jews, about Russians, or pogroms. It is about defining who we are in changing world, whether that is because of oppression or choice.

That’s a question the entire world has been trying to answer, though perhaps best voiced by a character from Les Miserables “Who am I?” It is the question the UN tries to decide when it deals with the Israel-Palestine conflict, ISIS, Syria, the South China Sea debate, migrants, and the Iran deal. It is the question the US is trying to answer in the 2016 election. It is the question we try to answer in our jobs, our school, our social life. And it is the question of a loving family and a poor dairy farmer.


Gabrielle Bray is the Assistant Director of Fiddler on the Roof and is a freshman at White Station High School. She has been involved in theatre for four years, thanks to her two lovely sisters dragging her into it. Outside of theatre, she rides horses, competes in MUN and Science Olympiad, volunteers at a vet's office, and reads.

Why Pay What You Can? by Executive Director,Lindsay Mitchell

Theatre has been a driving force in my life for as long as I can remember. It has shaped who I am, not only in my career path, but shaped who I am at my core. Because I know what theatre has done for others and myself I want everyone to be able to experience it! But guess what? Theatre is expensive. Most of us working in theatre know that it is expensive to produce, but we often forget how expensive it is to attend.

Theatre is vital to the human experience. It is also something that many people cannot afford. That’s why Pay What You Can (PWYC) performances have always been so important to me.

When we started SDP we had one performance that was dedicated to Pay What You Can. They were always our favorite performances. Being able to talk to people that were seeing live theatre for the first time is a powerful experience. Through those interactions I realized that seeing theatre is something that I have taken for granted.  That is when I realized that I wasn’t doing all I could as an artist and as a human to make theatre accessible.

Even though SDP is an inclusive theatre, has sensory friendly performances, and had one PWYC performance per production, it still wasn’t enough.  So Brandon and I went to the SDP staff.  We all felt the same way. We didn’t know how PWYC productions would be possible, but we knew it needed to be done. From there we took it to the board and they whole-heartedly agreed to support us in this huge leap of faith.

Without any extra funding, grants, or sponsors we all held our breath and made A Lifetime of Christmas 2015 PWYC.  I would be lying if I said that opening night was not one of the most terrifying nights of my life! Would anyone show up? Well they did show up and in droves! Audiences we have never seen before, families being able to take all of their children to see a show together for the first time! 

With the support of the board we made our next production Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland PWYC. Nearly 1,500 people attended that production. Something else began to happen in Alice. The audience started paying what they could! Audience members that could afford it would drop in the price of ten tickets. Some would drop in a handful of change, both parties being treated with the same excitement and gratitude by the staff.  

Audience members that could not afford regular ticket prices were no longer segregated to one night. Everyone despite their socio-economic background could come any night and all sit together and enjoy an evening of theatre. Theatre was now accessible.

So why does SDP do Pay What You Can? Because we can!

It’s not easy and I still get nervous, but I know we are doing the right thing. When we started a non-profit we said that we wanted to do everything we could to do the actual work of a non-profit. For us that includes Pay What You Can productions.

I want to thank every person that trusted in this leap of faith, donated, paid what they could at the door, and every person that will continue to do so. You truly make a difference. You are shaping your community, you are making every one feel welcome, and you are allowing every one to take a moment and look into the mirror that is theatre.

I hope to see you all at our next Pay What You Can production, Fiddler on the Roof!


Lindsay Mitchell

Co-founder and Executive Director

A Mom's Journey Back to the Stage by Jennifer Kellett

One Saturday morning this past August, we gathered up the troops to go down to Stage Door for our two oldest girls to audition for A Lifetime of Christmas. It would be their fifth production at SDP, a place where they’ve come to feel right at home. As their time slots neared, however, our nine-year-old got a bad case of nerves, and it looked like she wasn’t going to be able to get up on stage. Once she’s past the audition phase, she never looks back and enjoys every moment of rehearsing and performing – but that’s a topic for a whole different blog post. In any event, as I stood there holding our toddler, I suddenly got the bright idea to go audition for the production with her. I figured if I could show her that I was also nervous but still found the courage to get up on stage, then she could do it, too. She very much liked that idea, and my husband gave me an atta-girl. So, with less than 10 minutes’ preparation and a broken toe to boot, I found myself on stage for the first time in more than 20 years, singing a Christmas song a capella in front of a room full of people and stumbling my way through about six eight-counts of brand-new choreography.

The girls auditioned. I auditioned. And the directors managed to lift their jaws from the floor just long enough to ask me if I was serious. I told them that surely I could manage to appear in one number if they thought I was good enough, but I never imagined I’d actually be cast. The following day, I received the news that they had not put me in one number, but a whole handful of them. I’d be singing in ensembles, dancing several times, and even singing a solo. What?!? 

Flattered beyond belief, I quickly got in touch with them and reminded them that I had an 18-month-old and a husband who travels frequently and unpredictably for work. I explained that, besides the fact that I am not exactly in my prime physically, there was no possible way I could commit to five-plus rehearsals each week. But they responded that they would help take care of my baby anytime I was on stage. Yes, really. They’d help take care of my baby. Then, my husband, when many men might immediately dismiss the idea, told me I could (and should, if I wanted to) do it. And then I looked at the faces of my daughters, their eyes sparkling in anticipation of the possibility that I’d be on stage with them – and, well, the decision was made.

My very first memories of life are sprinkled heavily with watching their Baba, my mother, act and sing in front of audiences: as Nellie in South Pacific, Maria in The Sound of Music, Anita in West Side Story, Nancy in Oliver, Agnes Gooch, Miss Hannigan, the list goes on and on. As a child, I also enjoyed being in productions and was lucky enough to be cast as a tiny little Siamese child in The King and I, Amaryllis in The Music Man, the lead in Snow White, and as Charlie’s mother in Charlie and Algernon. Ultimately discovering that I didn’t feel as comfortable acting, however, I turned all of my attention to dancing and singing. I appeared in numerous productions of The Nutcracker, as well as other ballet and tap productions, and perhaps most fun, as a part of a competitive jazz company. I sang with the Jonesboro High School Cameratas, which got to perform at Carnegie Hall with John Rutter conducting. 

During college, I took ballet for P.E. credit. One summer, I appeared in the chorus of Lil Abner. And one Christmas, I returned to The Nutcracker to play Fritz and Clara’s mother (with Fritz being played by none other than Kyle Dean Massey who has now starred as Pippin on Broadaway!). But after that, I did not consider the possibility that I would ever appear on stage again. Instead, I went on to law school, got married, had three children, and began juggling all of the responsibilities a working mother has to juggle. I asked for a beautiful acoustic guitar and got it, but I never managed to take a single lesson or spend any real time learning to play more than just a few chords. I continued to play the piano for stress relief but just when I could grab five minutes here and there. Although my husband encouraged me to, I rarely took yoga or dance classes or even spent any time working out. I felt guilty taking any time away from the girls that I didn’t already have to be away from them working. In short, my life became all about making sure everyone had plenty of outlets to express themselves but ignoring the fact that I needed a little of that, too.

So when this opportunity arose, I was both thrilled and intimidated. Let’s face it: I do not weigh what I weighed 25 years ago. I’ve had and nursed three babies. I can no longer do the splits or triple pirouettes. What about these very real nerves that attack me every time I sing at church? And what about my terrible, awful short-term memory? Could I memorize lyrics and new dance steps? Would I really be able to do this?

As rehearsals started, my doubts grew even more. I couldn’t remember any of the dance routines to save my life. I heard myself land every step on the floor, much harder than the rest of the dancers – wonderful young dancers I could have easily given birth to who initially called me Mrs. Kellett. To my horror, I had to be lifted and dipped by my dance partners, which meant I had to forget about the scales and just trust those sweet guys to hold me up. Many run-throughs felt like a Carol Burnett skit where I was clumsily one or two moves behind everyone else. And when the time came for me to sing my solo in front of everyone, I thought my heart would pound right out of my chest. My palms sweat, my hands shook, and all breath totally left me. I was not ready for prime time, to be sure.

But then something cool started to happen. I began to internalize why my girls feel so at home at SDP. Even when I had doubts that I could do what was being asked of me, everyone around me knew I could – other cast members, directors, and other moms and dads. They encouraged me. They forgave me. They accommodated me. They cheered me on. They called me Mom. And they allowed me to be vulnerable for the first time in a long time. Once I got to that point, everything else started to improve, bit by bit. It wasn’t all easy from there, but just as I would feel like I couldn’t do it, someone would buoy me up. Just as I felt awkward and old and fat, I would look down at my sweet daughter sitting on the steps at the front of the stage, resting her chin on her hands and staring up at me like I was the best dancer she’d ever seen. It was pretty darned magical.

I won’t lie and say that it happened very far in advance of opening night, but I did finally memorize all of the steps and words. Thanks to muscle memory, some of my prior dance ability sneaked back in. And each time I held the microphone for my solo, I became more confident. Most of all, I believed that it was ok for the spotlight to be on me every once in a while.

Six weeks of rehearsal, one TV appearance, and eight live performances later, it was all over, and life at our house returned to normal. No more rushing out the door to rehearsal every night, having to leave my husband with a plate of food and the baby. No more performance anxiety and quite a few less things to juggle. But there is also no more giggling in the dressing rooms with all the new girlfriends I made, no more sparks of excitement getting ready to step out on stage with partners I learned to trust, no more twirling my girls around backstage, and no more spotlight.

The girls are back at SDP, currently in rehearsals for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and next up is Fiddler on the Roof. There’s a little part of me that wishes I were in it with them, but there is plenty of time for that down the road. Maybe even when our youngest wants to climb on stage with her sisters. Right now, I’m just grateful that I was given the opportunity to find the creative girl inside this woman’s body and let her remind me a thing or two about how I want to live my life. In 2016, I’m continuing my journey back to physical fitness, and I’m carving out a little time for myself every day. I will be doing lots more playing, singing, and dancing, even if it’s only at the gym or in the comfort of my own home. And everyone who lives here with me will be better off because of it.

If you have a similar little performer living inside that yearns to express herself in some small way, I cannot encourage you enough to let her out. And if you need a safe place to do it, you need look no further than Stage Door Productions where you’ll find an encouraging family like no other. Your spotlight is waiting.


Special Guest Blogger

Jennifer Kellett is a native of Jonesboro, Arkansas, but has called Memphis home for the last 15 years. She is an attorney and a certified lactation counselor. She and her husband, Brian, have three daughters, Abigail (12), Catherine (9), and Elizabeth (22 months). 

Believe It, Go For It, and Stick the Landing by Jason Gerhard

As I sit here on a pile of rocks on the Mad River (and listening to a family swim and play in the  nearby water) I am attempting to synthesize my first week of training. My time with Dell’Arte International has been a reflection on past training, a frustrating realization that I am aging and it is harder to move with my weight (though definitely possible), and a reawakening on the type of theatre I aim to make as director, performer, writer, and a fanatic of classical and new works. What has stuck with me the most is the belief and commitment we must make as artists in the work we do. It has to be authentic, come from a place of discovery, and be viscerally alive. Never walk in “knowing” how theatre is done and how a character will act. The stage is not a place for indication, or hinting, or attempting, it is a place of going to the brink of a cliff and diving off, of exploring the unknown, and setting the equilibrium of the performer and thus the audience, off balance. It is alive.

Four words that have been spoken with extent and fervent belief this week: believe, behave, become, behold. That as an actor, we have to believe we are the character, behave as the character, become the character, and behold the magnitude and life of that character. And all at once. These four words have reminded me of a few attitudes or ideas that I aim to help lift performers out of.

Believe It

First off, you have to believe that what you are doing is real. This is simple and complicated. If you know any children younger than you, watch them as they play. They commit to a vivid world that stretches from the jungles of the Amazon, to a city in the clouds, to a real life school that is all composed of chairs, blankets, and a spoon. And yet, they believe—they live these realities. 

Theatre cannot portray reality as is. It does not matter if you are trying your hardest to present realistic scenarios, live as the character day in and day out, or give us a real set true to every detail in life on the stage. We can aim for it, but never accomplish that. This conundrum has been alluded to for centuries of theatrical theory and exemplified in such writing as The Paradox of Acting by Denis Diderot. This is our pitfall and our challenge. And this challenge shouldn’t be a disappointment but a call to arms by every performer who should scream, “I will become that which I am not.” 

So often I have worked with students, from the very young to adult, who struggle with this idea of belief. They allow their fears of the unknown, their fears of bullying, of mockery, of messing up, of not succeeding, of not getting the assignment “right” to take them over. So they go through classes, productions, and life with a sense of hesitation and reserve. I do not punish you for being who you are, I’ve been there and do go there at times. But I challenge you to believe in the work you do, that you want to do, and the games and scenes you play as performers.

Go For It

So here you are. You are in a classroom about to give a speech, backstage about to step out, you’re about to speak—What do you do? 

I posed this scenario to our interns this summer: You are on the edge of a cliff and you jump off. One of two things is possible: you fly or you fall. If you fly, great. This is not exciting to watch on stage. The story is over and we can go home. But if you fall, fall with zeal and abandon. Yes, it’ll hurt, there might be bumps, but in this falling you will learn. And in this falling, we watch you learn, we empathize with your struggle, we cheer for you. Falling does not equal failure. Falling equals risk. Falling equals drama.

In the moment before you speak or before you move, you come face to face with yourself. With all the demons that exist in your mind that have been imposed upon you by your peers, by your society, by yourself. You can either choose to listen to them and walk out with fear and trepidation and perform to a rote pattern. Or you can perform with abandon, fervor, surprise, and living on the edge. Even the shyest character should have the possibility of risk and the unknown. 

Every time you walk onstage, you should live in a place that anything might happen. Yes, you have rehearsed for weeks. You have memorized words. There are places where the lights must go. But you have to believe that anything could change at any moment.

You might:








Don’t hesitate, don’t think, just go.

And Stick the Landing

Wherever you land, that’s where you are. Or as we have said this week: “You rise where you stand.”You made a bold character choice, you have thrown your body into a new position in a game,  you spoke in a way you never have before. Own it. That’s where you are and that’s what you meant to do. Do not back down. Do not apologize. This idea of “stick the landing” comes to me after working with one of my favorite teaching artist friends. My friend Sara and I were teaching a comedy camp and working on an exercise we dubbed “Silly Walks” with a group of 3rd-5th graders. In this exercise, we encourage students to go for it, to risk it all, to put themselves out there. At the end, like a gymnast, you stick the landing. That no matter if you did not like it, messed up, or embarrassed yourself, you said, “Here I am and I did that and I am me.” I want to see artists, performers, designers, poets, and painters, to believe in the work they do.  Don’t judge a game for its ridiculous nature. Go for it. This is your one chance. If you wait until the show, you have lost that opportunity. You perform what you rehearse. And was it risky and full of life? Then say yes. Let’s all agree to stand tall and be who we are. Stick it. 

You are about to walk onstage. What do you do? Go.

The Choice is Yours by Executive Director, Lindsay Mitchell

I was lucky enough to see my first production at the age of five. Since then I have worked as a performer, company manager, grant writer, director, producer, and I now serve as Executive Director of SDP. I have been blessed to walk an incredible path in the arts. Over the years, I have faced multiple challenges and worked to overcome many obstacles. Through this I have found that the most difficult obstacle I had to overcome was myself.

I know that phrase seems trite. You probably roll your eyes just hearing it. I know I did. How did not getting a part equate to overcoming myself? I was in the classes, I was volunteering to paint the sets, I was doing everything right. So since it wasn’t my fault I blamed everyone else. “The director picked her favorite.” “My parents should have never let me quit piano.” “The choreographer hates me because I was late and he’s holding a grudge.” The excuses were endless. Nothing was ever my fault so there was obviously nothing I could do to get any better. Everyone was against me.

After years of destroying myself and breaking down everyone around me I finally sat back and looked at what I was doing.  Instead of enjoying what I love most in the world I had become part of the self-destructive nature of the arts. The arts at its worst can be a narrative that starts with self-doubt and leads to self-destruction and ends with building walls out of excuses and negativity to protect what is left.

I destroyed myself with negative thoughts about my weight, what notes I couldn’t hit, what dance moves I would never be able to do. I lay awake at night bemoaning the parts I didn’t get or getting the part and imagining all the awful things people were saying about me because I was cast. I was so busy focusing on the negative that I forgot to love what I do and how to enjoy my life.

I realized what I was doing to myself and in turn what I was doing to other people by feeding into the frenzy. In that moment I was truly broken. All the negative walls I had built to protect me crumbled down and all that was left was a burned out diva that wasn’t built for this game. But was it always a game? Why did I start this journey to begin with?

Slowly and carefully I began to examine how I got there. I took myself back to the beginning. When I saw my first show I didn’t want to be up there to be a star. I wanted to be up there with them because they were having fun. They were singing and dancing and people weren’t making fun of them. They looked like what I wanted to be: happy, uninhibited, and communicative.

Flash forward to my first show as a performer. I was a “Winkie” in the Wizard of Oz! Was it the most glamorous role? No, but I was so unbelievably happy to be cast. I was a part of something greater than myself. I was a part of the community. I was meeting people like me for the first time!

I used to love being a part of the artistic process, even the smallest part. So where did I go wrong?  It went wrong when things became about me. It was no longer about the process of being a contributing member of my community.  It became about what part I had compared to someone else. It became about her being skinnier but me having the better voice. The arts had become a vehicle for me to prove that I was better than everyone else and if I couldn’t actually be better than them I would tear them down until I at least I felt better than them.

I am not proud of my actions but I also know that to change your path you have to be honest and accountable to your past so you can move forward. The performing arts can be anything you make it. It can be a destructive force that destroys its players and leaves them with nothing but resentment and self-doubt; or it can be a safe place. It can be a place of growth and healing; a community where you push yourself to be better, not to overcome others but to raise the entire community to a new place. This is why we started SDP. We wanted a place that focused on the positive community that is the arts. That despite casting decisions, a hard class, or your own obstacles: you are supported and challenged to be the best contributor to the community you can be.

There will always be obstacles in life, but you have a choice. You can choose to make it about you, build up walls, and lock yourself in with your own worst enemy: yourself. Or you can choose to participate in the process and improve your community no matter what part you play. You can be the one that not only overcomes the obstacles, but turns around and helps a friend up and over with you. Being able to change your world is honestly up to you. You simply have to make the choice to participate in the process, as part of a community, instead of getting side tracked by the "me" game. I made my choice. How about you?

By: Lindsay Mitchell-SDP Executive Director

What's in a Name?

I was standing in the wings waiting for one of our rehearsals to begin. As the cast members began to fill the stage I found myself behind Hannah O’Briant and another little girl. Hannah had been in several shows and a camp with us, but this was the other little girl’s first production. She was obviously nervous as she walked up on the big stage for the first time. I felt anxious and excited for her as I remembered my first rehearsal as a child. As I was thinking about this moment I watched Hannah reach out and put her arm around the young girl and say “Don’t worry I was nervous my first time too but don’t be scared. You’re a part of the Stage Door Family now!” That moment will stay with me always. That was the moment the SDP Family was officially named. It was created from a beautiful little heart comforting a stranger and soon to be friend. 

As many of us know, life is not always easy. It is filled with intimidating moments and heart wrenching decisions. Which is why we love and protect everyone we work with as family. Children are continually making decisions that added together will define the person they become. Every day they are laying the foundation that the rest of their lives will be built upon. The arts are an amazing tool to help in the creation of that foundation. If you look at the arts as a tool instead of an end product you can see why the arts are vitally important in the lives of young people. The arts develop confidence, problem solving, perseverance, focus, dedication, and accountability. Strengths that can be used for years to come in their personal relationships, careers, and in their every day encounters with the world.

Those qualities are what the SDP family strives for. To create an environment where everyone can feel safe and where they have a support system as they experience new things and find their voice. In the true sense of family we want this to be a place filled with love and understanding. A place where people support each other as they push one another to be the best they can possibly be. A family is a place where it is ok to make mistakes but where they also hold each other accountable.

The SDP family is not solely the staff. The SDP family is a conglomeration of individuals striving to support each other while we have the pleasure of sharing this time together. The core of what we are is the same as the heart of those two little girls willing to share an encouraging word and walk hand in hand as they share something new.

By: Lindsay Mitchell-SDP Executive Director