By Adele Crotty
For the past 45 years, Erie has been home to one of the most exceptional student summer theatre programs in the region. Footlights Theatre Program has allowed children of all ages to participate in a community wide performance program that enhances their abilities in the areas of singing, dancing and acting, in addition to learning valuable skills like cooperation, responsibility, and hard work. Starting with small shows like “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and growing to produce massive works of spectacle and talent including “Shrek” and “Newsies,” Footlights has been a stepping stone for countless young aspiring performers in the area, many of whom have continued to be involved in the program as adults.
The dynamic duo of KC McCloskey, Customer Relations & Marketing and Director of Theatre, and Sara Little, Human Resources & Marketing and Director of Dance, who are now co-owners of the expanded Footlights Theatre Performing Arts Center, have given the program new life in the current age, and for exciting prospects in the future. Both KC and Sara have been involved with the Footlights program since their early days as performers. In their teens, both KC and Sara discovered the joys of performing with peers in their community, most whom they would never have met otherwise, and many whom they are still connected with to this day. According to KC, some of her proudest moments have been watching students grow up through Footlights to become incredible performers, teachers, musicians, and friends. To KC and Sara, being involved in the Footlights Theatre Program isn’t just about learning a show or taking some interesting classes. For some kids this program is where they learn to feel good about themselves. Children often get their very best sense of positive self-worth, their first, and sometimes only, sense of accomplishment by being onstage. That is a huge benefit to the program that both KC and Sara believe makes it so effective and lasting.
In the current climate, with remote learning being a necessity for most programs, and without the ability to learn and rehearse a show in the standard fashion, Sara doesn’t worry about instructors experiencing a loss of connection with the students. While teaching online dance classes through Footlights, Sara has gained an appreciation for the benefits of remote learning and developed an even greater ability to focus on the individual students. One major benefit to the online platform is content and information sharing, which Sara says “really help to make a strong community connection within the class.” Following that theme, KC agrees that one of the main focuses of Footlights is to always celebrate the diverse Erie community and bring students together in an inclusive environment. KC emphasizes this, saying “All summer long race doesn’t matter, age doesn’t matter, gender doesn’t matter, and ability levels don’t matter. We are a fully inclusive program. We have an amazing young population in this city and it’s up to us as adults to really see and respect them.”
The future of Footlights is ever changing, and both KC and Sara look forward to the new and exciting challenges it will face. While things may look very different now in terms of how classes are presented and the ability to perform as a group, the goals of Footlights will undoubtedly stay the same. From the perspective of an instructor, and former student, Sara is adamant that “Footlights won’t really be different. We’ve always been dedicated to sharing our experiences, both educational and personal, and having an open and comfortable space for our students to trust us.” The real impact of the program is in the students who participate and what they do with their experience. Evidence of this can be seen in a student who came up through the program, started working for the program, and has now moved on, taking the love of this program with her into her own performing arts classroom. For KC and Sara, that was such a beautiful moment and one of the best examples of the way Footlights resonates with so many young people. Footlights will continue to expand and flourish, reaching into new areas of instruction and performance as the use of technology grows and opportunities to reach the community in new ways enhances the overall impact of the program. The future of Footlights will also include the procurement of a rehearsal and performing space so that students and instructors can come together to learn, collaborate, and grow. As for the things that will remain the same, the motivation behind the program, KC and Sara both agree that theatre changes lives, the true business of the Footlights Theatre Program is changing and shaping lives through theatre.
“The true purpose of arts education is not necessarily to create more professional dancers or artists. [It’s] to create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, who have curious minds, who can lead productive lives.”