WINNETKA – After dedicating 43 years to the Children’s Theatre of Winnetka (CTW), Barbara Weldon is stepping down as a director for the volunteer organization that puts on two children’s theater performances each year.
While Weldon has decided to step aside to make way for the next generation, her love of children’s theater remains constant and she will continue to volunteer on the CTW board.
Without Weldon, it is likely that CTW may never have existed. In 1974, she approached Tom Fritz, at that time director of the Winnetka Community House, about starting a children’s theater. While Fritz encouraged Weldon to become a staff member of the Community House and start the program, Weldon was unequivocal that it wouldn’t be successful unless the program was run by volunteers.
“She really did a wonderful thing by starting CTW,” Connie Yonan, a board member and producer told DailyNorthShore.
Indeed, 43 years later the program is still going strong. Yonan said Weldon was instrumental in the theater program’s success, always believing that children should be involved in all aspects of the productions. “I have always been amazed by her energy, vitality and commitment,” Yonan said.
Welden was selected as Woman of the Year by the Winnetka Chamber of Commerce, and she was recognized at a luncheon by the Chamber on April 12. A Retirement Gala is being held on April 24 at the Winnetka Community House to celebrate her commitment to CTW. Weldon’s last show as director, Hello Dolly, will be performed April 27-30.
DailyNorthShore asked Weldon to reflect on her work in children’s theater over the years.
DNS: How did you first get involved with CTW?
BW: Lu Sunkel and I revived a children’s theater in Winnetka — it had died out and we thought this would be a good idea to do this and formed a board. The first show was A Christmas Carol. It just had to be all volunteers and people interested in children’s theater. It wouldn’t have worked to pay some people while others were volunteers. We wanted people who really cared about children’s theater.
DNS: What drew you to theatre initially?
BW: I always loved theater. My parents and grandmother took me to plays. I was in plays in high school and college and taught some drama classes. When I had a family I decided I wanted to do theater as a volunteer. When my husband and I moved to Winnetka in 1974 to raise our three children, I volunteered at the Winnetka Children’s Fair on the Main Show. At the Main Show the children mouthed their lines instead of speaking them and I wanted the kids to actually speak their lines. That led to forming a children’s theater.
DNS: Why do you think CTW is so important?
BW: I just love working with the kids and helping them develop characters and finding out what the show is all about. I love it. Everybody who works on it really has this tremendous love for giving children the opportunity to be involved with theater.
DNS: What have you enjoyed about working with children?
BW: It is giving them a good start. If they audition, then I know they are interested in theater. Then we develop a character, study how everybody is in a scene, the relationships and how to react to what is going on on stage. The hardest part of acting is reacting. I love it and the kids are there because they love it and we never have any problems with discipline.
DNS: What was your favorite production?
BW: None really. I just enjoy each show that we do. Right now we are doing Hello Dolly and I love it and the kids seem to love it. Hello Dolly is my favorite show right now.
DNS: How has Winnetka changed over the course of 43 years and how has CTW changed with it?
BW: We started out doing children’s shows like Rumpelstilskin and then the kids got more sophisticated. Now we are branching out to Hello Dolly and last year we did The Sound of Music. We even did My Fair Lady. To give more chances to kids we are double casting too. At first I was uneasy that we couldn’t get that many people who wanted to do this and were talented but there are plenty. It just gives more opportunities to kids.
DNS: What are you plans now that you are stepping down as director?
BW: I will be cheering from the first row but I won’t be anything more than that on the show. You either direct or you don’t. I plan to be on the board and continue to do the audition sign-ups.
DNS: What has CTW meant to you?
BW: I’ve loved it and I am honored and humbled that I have been able to do this. The reason I am walking away from directing is that I feel it is time for new people to come in. Maybe it is time for somebody new to take over. My husband is very patient and it might be nice to get away too.
DNS: What do you think of your former student Stephen Schellhardt becoming director?
BW: Stephen is fabulous. He can act, he can direct, he can produce and choreograph. He is a triple threat, he really is.
Tickets for the Retirement Gala and the production of Hello Dolly can be found at www.childrenstheatrewinnetka.com.