Encore Theatre once performed “Cabaret.”
Jr. Encore Theatre, St. Lawrence Episcopal Church, 125 W. Church St., Libertyville
7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12-Sunday,
(847) 708-8880; www.encoretheatre.net
Updated: October 11, 2012 7:28PM
As beginnings go, Encore Theatre’s couldn’t have been more humble. The early productions were staged in the backyard of Artistic Director Bob Silton’s parents’ home.
The company has come a long way since then, producing high-quality musicals through its adult company as well as shows cast with first- through eighth-graders for Jr. Encore Theatre, and high school and college student shows through Varsity Encore Theatre.
The 15th anniversary season includes four Jr. Encore productions, starting with “The Sound of Music” (Oct. 12-14), followed by “White Christmas” (December), “All Shook Up” (April 2013), and “Les Miserables (July 2013), plus one Encore musical, “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” (Jan. 2013), and a Varsity production of “A Chorus Line” (Aug. 2013).
Lake Bluff resident Silton has been involved in theater his entire life as an actor, stage manager and director. In addition, the Columbia College graduate, who earned a degree in arts management and administration, has produced shows around the country and in London.
Silton admitted that he initially started the Encore Theatre as “something to do. It was only a summer program in the beginning.”
The Jr. Encore Theatre is the most active of the three branches of the company. “When I was a kid, there were no theater programs around here,” Libertyville native Silton explained. “Your first exposure to theater normally was if your parents took you to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Goodman or if you did the Highland Middle School eighth grade musical. I wanted kids to have the opportunity to experience theater at a young age.”
Silton is demanding of his young casts but they seem to appreciate that toughness because of the results he produces. “Our goal is to put on professional, full-scale musicals,” he said. “We do full-blown choreography and full sets. We build all our costumes from scratch.”
Libertyville resident Sarah Lester began creating costumes for Encore five years ago and it has been a full-time job for the past three seasons. All three of her children have performed with Encore. Fifteen-year-old Jonathan was in every Encore show for four years and has helped behind the scenes since graduating. Rachael, 18, and Nicholas, 19, have both been in the company’s high school shows.
“Being involved in the theater gives them a lot more self confidence,” Lester said. “And it gives them a nice creative outlet” as well as helping them learn “how to work well with other people.”
Because of Silton’s exacting standards, Lester indicated, her children “feel more of a sense of pride.”
Helping to keep those standards high is former Libertyville resident and new Chicagoan Annie Snow, the company’s choreographer for seven years. “It’s been a huge opportunity for me to grow as a choreographer,” said the professional dancer and dance therapist.
Snow said that what makes Jr. Encore special is “the kids. They are such hard workers and they’re very passionate about their art. They are such incredible risk takers that when we challenge them — which we do a lot — they’re so often ready to take the challenge. That’s helping them grow as performers and, in turn, that’s helping the company grow.”
Silton is so committed to exposing young people to theater that he took a group of 40 children and parents to New York in June. “It was so great to be in a Broadway house and see these kids experience it and talk about it and digest it and love it,” he said.
The artistic director calls “surviving 15 years” one of his theater company’s biggest highlights but Silton has particularly fond memories of staging “Cabaret” about seven years ago. “I got to do that with a lot of my professional theater friends,” he said.
Silton’s long-term goal for the company is “all about bettering ourselves and the program,” he said. “Every year we strive to challenge ourselves and educate the production staff and all the actors involved.” And a permanent home dedicated to the arts would be great.
“I think Libertyville could thrive on an arts building,” Silton asserted.