Behind the Yellow Door Theatre Project and its Line 2 studio in Virgil, youngsters and teens are finding a place to discover themselves, to feel at home and safe, and to hang out with others who accept them and share their goals.
They show up for musical theatre training, but they say they receive so much more.
The charitable organization offers classes for Niagara youth under the tutelage of founder and artistic director Andorlie Hillstrom. Students work alongside talented professionals, including scriptwriters, musicians, designers and stage directors, and are offered performance opportunities which involve Shaw actors.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero, at the launch of the theatre project’s 2019 season recently, got a glimpse of the kids entertaining, and of their talent and enthusiasm.
“Yellow Door Theatre Project has been able to produce more than theatre — they’ve produced self-confident youth who are an integral part of our Niagara area community,” said Disero.
That was not only evident in their performances, but in their desire to share their love of Yellow Door as the event was winding up.
Ryan Kirchofer, a local teen attending high school in Niagara Falls, isn’t too fond of sports. He found his voice, his niche, at Yellow Door. He fits in. And he was able to earn one of the leads in his high school play.
His father, board member Gregg Kirchofer, can’t say enough about how great the experience has been for his son.
“This is his third year. It really gave him a place to belong, where it doesn’t matter who you are. Everyone is accepted. It’s an environment the kids all want to come back to — that’s why it’s so important to continue this. It’s a hidden gem, in what it does for kids.”
Lucas Romanelli, 17, goes to Governor Simcoe Secondary School in St. Catharines. He likes everything about Yellow Door — “the people, the vibe, the atmosphere. We all put so many hours into rehearsing, we’ve become a really tight community of our own.” He’s one of the newer members of the company, he says, “and I was welcomed with open arms. I love it here.”
Santiago Rivera, 16, says he too loves the theatre project, “because I can connect with people who share the same interests as me. We all have the same goal of having a great production, a great performance.” He hopes to translate what he has learned in his training into a career in theatre, he says. “I feel like this is a great start.”
Hannah Jamal, 15, started training at Yellow Door when she was 12. “I’ve been part of it since the beginning. I feel so comfortable here, really close to everyone. I’ve really enjoyed being part of the shows every year.”
Her sister Ayla Jamal is still a student at St. Davids Public School, and began training with the theatre project when she was 10.
“I feel like I’ve grown up here, with the other kids I’ve met. I feel so close to all of them. We all hang out together outside of rehearsals — it’s incredible how close we are. And age doesn’t matter. I’m accepted even though I’m younger.”
“This is home,” chimes in Hannah.
Sydney Cornett goes to Eden High School, and wants to be a classical singer. Her mother, deciding theatrical training would be an advantage, found out about Yellow Door. “I came to an audition and fell in love with theatre and acting. I found my closest friends here and I love them.”
Emily Boyd, 17, a student at Governor Simcoe, has been with Yellow Door through two productions. “When I showed up for my first rehearsal, I knew no one. And in no time there was this great group of people I felt like I’d known forever, even though I didn’t know their names. I’d hang out here every day if I could. It’s so warm and welcoming here.”
The training the kids receive, and the professional performances offered by Yellow Door, comes at a cost — in addition to the launch, the event was a plea for sponsorship to finance the upcoming season.
“You’ve seen the impact training has on youth,” said Michelle Dubois, fundraising advisor for the school, to the small group invited to the launch.
“Some will go on to careers in theatres, others won’t. But they will learn skills they can use in the real world,” she said, including self-expression and self-confidence.
It costs more than $100,000 a year to stage the yearly productions, she said. “If you haven’t seen the kids at the performing arts centre, just do it. You’ll be blown away.”
Betty Knight is a supportive sponsor who has been impressed by the work of the project and the impact it has on the young lives it touches. She encourages others to come onboard.
“This is a great space for kids. There are so many pressures on teens today — Yellow Door gives them a safe space where nobody judges them, where they can express themselves. We all need a place like that.”
She considers Yellow Door a “wonderful endeavour,” one that she’s happy to support. The training the kids receive is confidence-building, and creates an “inclusive community. I think that’s so important for youth.” She has watched the kids grow in confidence and maturity, she said. “What happens here will pay off into the future.”
The company’s musical theatre summer camp will be on offer for two two-week sessions this summer (July 8 to 19 and August 5 to 16). Participants from ages eight to 16 will develop singing, dancing, and acting skills and will collaborate on a production staged in a workshop performance at the end of the camp — this year’s musical is Disney’s Aladdin Jr.
Yellow Door has done one major production each year, but this season is planning two musicals to be performed at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in December, with the company divided into two age groups.
Going Under, an original Canadian musical will be performed by the teen group, as they explore urban life through a group of strangers on their morning commute. When the subway train they are all riding comes to a screeching halt, so do the complicated lives of the passengers.
Bremen Rock City will be performed by the junior company for kids aged 10 to 13. It’s loosely based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, following the story of Jack, a guitar-shredding donkey, who escapes from his boring life on the farm to pursue his dream of becoming a rock star like his idol Spike.
In development, said Hillstrom, is The Pied Piper of Hamelin, for 2020.
Further details, registration for camps and classes, and tickets can be found at www.yellowdoortheatre.com. Yellow Door is located in the new Redekopp Creative and Performing Arts Centre in Virgil.