Time to Shine

On a Sunday afternoon in mid-September 2014, four Citizen Musician Fellows visited the Illinois Youth Center Warrenville (IYCW). The fellows were there with Storycatchers Theatre to meet the young women in residence at the facility, and to discuss the upcoming performances of this year’s musical, Teenage Tears — a story inspired by the girls’ life experiences, as captured by Storycatchers. Teenage Tears “tells the story of Laylah, a sixteen-year-old girl, and her little brother Day-Day; two kids that desperately want a connection to their mother. The siblings discover that Mom has been arrested, but has directed their oldest sister not to reveal that information. As the younger siblings search for the truth about Mom’s whereabouts, the audience is confronted with many of the issues children with incarcerated parents must face.” The stories in the musical are written and inspired by many of the girls’ personal narratives. To begin the day’s meeting, we made introductions around a large circle comprised of teen girls, teachers, actors, and musicians. We each had a chance to introduce ourselves and our instruments, to familiarize the girls with our supporting roles. After we read through the script, the other fellows and I provided “party music” for an exercise that got the girls and staff moving around the room and dancing. Many of the girls were shy at first, but the exercise was a step to bringing them out of their shells. Our greatest hits included Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” and Tchaikovsky’s Waltz from Sleeping Beauty. I had so much fun seeing the excitement and energy that our music created around the room. Fast forward two months to mid-November — the fellows returned for a week packed with rehearsals and shows at IYCW. It was wonderful to see the girls and the Storycatchers staff again since the last time we had visited IYCW; in those two months together, they had clearly worked very hard to prepare for their performances. During our rehearsals, the fellows worked to match their level of preparation, especially Lindsay, who had been assigned an acting role in one of the scenes. She played an inmate at a women’s prison, and she even started one of the songs, called “Time to Shine.” Although each new day of performance saw the youth full of enthusiasm and zeal, one particular show will stick in my mind forever. The mother of one of the performers was in attendance for the first show. At the end , when the cast was seated on stage for a Q&A session, this young woman was asked how she felt to have her mother in the audience. She gave a very eloquent answer explaining how deeply the musical resonated with her because, when her mother was incarcerated, the young teen felt abandoned, like the main character of the show, and refused to have any contact. This teen is now in prison, and her mother is the only family member that supports her and will not give up on her. There was a tearful reunion between mother and daughter, who were separated by prison walls not once, but twice. As the musical provided an insight into the lives of these teens, Teenage Tears also enabled this young woman to better understand and appreciate her family. Working with Storycatchers at IYCW was truly a unique experience. I enjoyed every minute with the teens, most of whom I probably would never have encountered otherwise. I was inspired by the passion, dedication, and courage they possessed. Storycatchers Theatre’s Fabulous Females program brought out the best in each teen. It was a valuable learning and growing experience for everyone involved. It is now their time to shine. By Jessica Wolfe. Photo by Brian Kersey ©.