It’s been so long since I saw live theater I can’t even remember when. So when the opportunity came to ease back into the scene, I didn’t hesitate.
After all, it was a pretty safe bet I’d get my money’s worth from a Sunday matinee performance featuring a gaggle of adolescents in suburban Hillsboro. They were young actors, ages 12 to 16, all members of the STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy and appearing in “Miss Nelson Is Missing!”
It was the epitome of community theater and quite the contrast to that evening’s bloated, four-hour Grammy Awards show. No special effects and big egos here. Just family-friendly entertainment, with parents, kids and neighbors all chipping in as cast and crew members, set designers, ticket takers, cookie bakers and audience members.
How did I wind up in the HART Theatre in the second row from the stage? Simple. I spotted a flier on the bulletin board one day when I went out for a coffee. I knew that Tammy Ellingson, a Hillsboro resident who writes regularly for me as a contributor to the Hillsboro Argus, has a son who is active in theater. I learned he was in the play and I had fond memories of reading “Miss Nelson Is Missing” to my own kids, so why not?.
It’s the story of a grade school teacher whose unruly students in Room 207 drive her to distraction — until she disappears one day (wink, wink) and is replaced by Miss Viola Swamp, a substitute so mean that the kids find themselves yearning for Miss Nelson and vowing to behave. I enjoyed the original story by Harry G. Allard Jr. and James Marshall, as well as the adapted version performed by 12-year-old Isaac Ellingson and his peers.
My acting career began and ended with a role in a grade school about “The Little Red Men From Mars,” so I had nothing but admiration for these young actors. All of them attend school in the greater Hillsboro area, mostly at public middle schools, with a sprinkling of Christian, Catholic and Waldorf schools thrown in. One of the older ones, 15, is home schooled and, I am told, a big fan of Pink Floyd. Sweet.
The cast bios revealed their innocence:
“Ainsley would like to thank her parents for their support, time, and driving her around everywhere.”
“(David) especially wants to thank his brother who will do anything with him like play with LEGOS, write stories, or create an action adventure!”
“Hannah is an avid hat wearer and enjoys many hobbies including creative writing, taking long walks, art, and having staring contests with her hedgehog, Ellie Mae.”
All in all, a pretty wholesome activity. Sunday was the last of nine performances over three weekends at the HART Theatre. Kudos to Target Corp. for making it possible to take this show on the road to a handful of Hillsboro elementary schools. And, finally, who knows if one day one of these young actors makes it big? I’ll be able to say, I remember when I saw so-and-so in that play back in 2014.