By Kailin Schumacher
The lights go out. The curtain drops and the auditorium bursts into applause. Behind the curtain children scream and giggle as they prepare for curtain call. The kids all take their turns bowing and receiving hoots and hollers from the audience. The audience members rise from their seats to give a standing ovation as all the cast members join hands for one final bow.
Every six weeks a new show is put on at the Eau Claire Children’s Theater. Each show is new, and starring people of all ages. Some shows require singing, others just acting, but none of the shows require any experience. The Eau Claire Children’s Theater is solely run by volunteers and is a non-profit theater for families in the Chippewa Valley. The theater prides itself on helping kids gain experience and confidence theater, according to the ECCT website.
The ECCT was founded in 1989 by Wayne Marek, who is not only the founder but also has been the executive and artistic director for the last 28 years. Marek grew up admiring his community theater, although he was never a part of it. After he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a degree in theater and a music minor, he decided it was time to bring something new to the community.
“There was a need for an organization that focused on productions that included younger people on stage, and provided shows for family audiences,” Marek said.
Throughout the years, Marek has enjoyed seeing the theater grow and become more popular within the community. While the theater only started out by performing three shows a year, it now does many more due to an increase in participants. During its 10th year of existence the theater upgraded to 10 shows per year. Now the theater puts on around 15 or 16 shows a year with each rehearsal period lasting around eight weeks.
Marek said his favorite part about ECCT is how fast paced and changing it is. Every couple of weeks Marek, and the board of directors, gather together to hold auditions for new shows. After the cast list is up, Marek works with all the cast members and set design crew to create a great show for people of all ages. Since the beginning, Marek has directed every show the ECCT has put on, and can’t even begin to guess the total numbers of shows he has been apart of. With 15 shows a year, Marek said he is always busy but always loving what he’s doing.
Parent as well as assistant stage director Laura Goss spoke to Marek’s busy schedule when she said that Marek is “totally dedicated to the ECCT, and is always here at all hours of the day.” She went on to say that “that this place is basically his life.”
Over his last 28 years, Marek said the biggest benefit of it all is what the children gain from the ECCT.
“This theater helps the kids with their self-esteem and their confidence when speaking in public,” Marek said. “They don’t think about these things when they are in the show but as they get older you can see it.”
Marek said he has gotten many comments back from parents telling him how their child has thrived since joining the ECCT, and that’s what makes it all worth it.
Parent Sarah Jullien commented on how she enjoys the shows because she gets to see her kids doing what they love. Even when her kids aren’t in shows it’s fun to come watch productions with the whole family. “It’s a great family outing. We get to watch theater that my husband and my kids will all enjoy, and it’s cheap!” said Jullien.
Backstage the kids hugged Marek and parents thanked him for all his hard work after the show. Marek smiled from ear to ear shining with satisfaction from a job well done. Crowds of parents gathered around and cameras flashed as he thanked all the kids for a great run and posed for pictures.
“Marek is one of the most organized and passionate directors I have ever had. We will do a scene 100 times until we have it down. I love how much a perfectionist he is, and how he mixes seriousness and humor within our shows and practices,” said 15-year-old Sadie Tourville and longtime actor at the ECCT. In the future Sadie plans to go to college for theater.
After years of working with child actors, Marek has learned the joy of directing inexperienced people. Marek enjoys how energetic and creative the kids are when given a direction.
“You’re working with kids that want to be here,” Marek said. “They are not stuck in some after school activity that they don’t want to be in. They want to be here, they are excited to be here, they auditioned to be here.”
Working with kids isn’t all fun and games though. Marek doesn’t have any kids at home but said it’s ok because he gets his fill of them at work. When it comes to the challenges of working with kids, it all comes back to their inexperience. There is a definite learning curve because of all the different ages involved in the show.
Marek is currently working on ECCT’s latest show, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, based on the book by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, about the story we all know and love, but from the perspective of the wolf. The show debuted April 21st and ran in the Oxford Theater until April 29.
Marek plans to continue at the ECCT until it’s his time to retire. “This place is my life, I love the theater and I’m grateful that I get to be a part of it every day,” Marek Said.