A Space Where Kids Can Be Who They Are

Music Theater Works’ YouthREACH summer offerings are what kids need right now.

When the pandemic silenced the stage and audiences, the arts community felt a collective heartbreak. That included Anya Plotkin, the YouthREACH Company manager at Music Theater Works summer musical theater programs in Wilmette.

This summer, Plotkin has her sights on getting back some of what kids have been missing, which is connections with others. She’s readying Music Theater Works to be a safe place for young musical theater enthusiasts to meet friends, sing loudly, dance to their heart’s content and be the star they are meant to be.

Plus, “It’s always a lot of fun,” she says.

The Kids Company Summer Workshops bring kids together to create a show in just six days — no experience required. As well as putting on some really great musical theater this summer, every child gets a solo speaking or singing part plus their time in the chorus to learn to be part of a team.

“Everybody gets the chance to have their shining moment on the stage and has a chance to be part of something a little bigger than themselves,” Plotkin says.

The schedule this summer includes Annie Jr., The Music Man, Singin’ in the Rain and more, beginning July 5.

The Youth Company — created for teens who are serious about musical theater — this year will create a professional production of Chicago The Musical. The production will be outside at Northshore Center and Plotkin is hoping that means their hard work gets the audience it deserves. Having that audience, Plotkin says, will make this summer feel closer to normal.

Why this program stands out

YouthREACH celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Plotkin started it after attending a summer camp herself.

“What I loved about the program was that it took a bunch of misfit toys and put them together for a summer and created lifelong friends, it created a lifelong love of theater and musical theater and it really showed the kids what they could be. I really wanted to bring that with me to this program,” she says.

And that’s exactly what she’s accomplished.

“At the end of each week, just six days, they go from coming in and knowing nobody to having friends and having an experience that they are going to remember,” she says.

They leave not only more confident in themselves but growing as a person and lover of musical theater, she says.

“We want to be a safe space so they can be who they are. A lot of kids, especially kids who are interested in musical theater, don’t necessarily fit in at their school. This is a place where you are always going to be accepted for who you are or even who you want to be,” Plotkin says.

Precautions in place for safety

 COVID safety is in place, with use of masks, social distancing and plenty of hand sanitizer. In addition, the rehearsal space has big garage doors that will be open to promote air flow and the staff will be vaccinated. The program is currently set to be opened at full capacity, but Plotkin says she’s keeping her eye on registration and COVID guidelines and may have to create a waiting list after it reaches half capacity.

The program comes at exactly the right time for kids who are feeling the stress of the pandemic.

As everyone knows, it’s been especially hard on kids.

“Even just being in the same room with people, creating music even through masks, is going to be so uplifting. It’s going to be a step in the right direction for everybody,” Plotkin says.

She says she understands some parents might not be ready to commit yet with a few things still unknown about the coronavirus and summer.

While she’d like parents to sign up early to reserve their child’s spot as quickly as possible to avoid any disappointment, she suggests parents with concerns reach out to her through email at aplotkin@musictheaterworks.org to allow her to help.

YouthREACH is Music Theater Works’ program for children and teens with a mission to transform young people’s lives through musical theater. It is located in Wilmette.

To find out more about the Kids Company as well as the Youth Company, which is by audition only, visit musictheaterworks.com/youthreach.

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