Not every kid who graduates from Fairyland’s renowned Children’s Theatre program goes on to become a cheerleader, the captain of the tennis team, and a member of the National Honor Society. Not everyone dreams of attending Stanford University and becoming a doctor.

But everyone isn’t Evangeleena Otero.

Now a high school senior, Evangeleena says her Fairyland experience, when she was nine and ten years old, helped her become the outgoing, confident girl she is today.  She returned to Fairyland a few weeks ago to see the season’s final shows, and it was Evangeleena’s younger sister, Eliza, who took the stage.

Children’s Theatre Program director Doyle Ott watched the final performances of the three casts – over thirty kids he’s worked with over the last nine months – with “a combination of sadness and relief.” To be sure, a dozen of the kids will stay and perform in our holiday show, but the casts will scatter. Some of the younger performers will audition again in January.

Seven years ago, both Evangeleena and Doyle were new to our Children’s Theatre. Evangeleena remembers being nervous at her audition; she performed a hip-hop dance to the music of Usher’s “Yeah.” Doyle, who  acts professionally and teaches theater arts at Sonoma State, says the Fairyland program is unique in a number of ways: “The length of the commitment, the level of involvement and responsibility, and the fact that, in addition to training and performance, we offer a lot of outdoor play and exploration that brings in our animals, gardens and puppetry – all of that makes it special.”

No experience is required for auditions, but a commitment on the part of both child and parent(s) is key. Teamwork is stressed as well. “It’s really up to the performers to make the show run,” Doyle says. Microphone failure, a missing cast member or flubbed lines have to be managed by the kids themselves on the spur of the moment.

“I liked learning the script and seeing how the play comes together,” says Evangeleena. One of her favorite Fairyland roles was the puppet master in Pinocchio. She also met someone who has remained a close friend over the years. “It’s great that in the program kids can just be who they are, and not be judged,” she says.

Eliza Otero was only two when she first observed big sister Evangeleena rehearse and perform at the park. During rehearsal days, little Eliza would occasionally climb up to the stage and start reciting or singing. “She was counting the years before she could be in the program,” Evangeleena recalls. “She’s always been more artistic than me.” Eliza, now nine, played Ozma in the season’s  “Ozma of Oz” production.

Seventeen-year-old Evangeleena, who’s preparing to apply to college, will soon travel to Washington, D.C., for a congress of future medical students. But Evangeleena says she still loves wearing costumes and always looks forward to Halloween. “Without Fairyland, I wouldn’t be so willing to try new things or to express myself,” she says.

After seven years at the helm of the program, Doyle says he’s seen many kids gain poise, independence, and leadership skills. And if you met Evangeleena, you’d know exactly what he’s talking about.

For information on auditions for next year’s Children’s Theatre program, go to www.fairyland.org.

 

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