The Arts

Spotlight will go dark: Youth theater group to present its final show next month

Undoubtedly, tears will be shed at the final show, and that will not be acting.

Real-life emotion will spring forth next month when Spotlight goes dark.

Spotlight Theatre Group of the East End will conclude its final season with one last performance, ending a 10-year run of providing a theater program for young people.

“It’s going to be hard,” said Kim Galway, who along with Darby Moore are the nonprofit group’s founding directors.

Financial matters are the primary reason for the decision to close up shop, said Ms. Galway. Spotlight had been doing well until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020.

“Unfortunately, it’s just time,” Ms. Galway said. “You know, we’ve had a great 10 years. COVID was really hard. We were branching out prior to COVID. And then COVID hit and shut us down. Really, unfortunately, financially it was a huge hit.

“We did come back because we wanted to and we wanted to give the kids a chance to perform again, but unfortunately COVID just made it impossible for us to kind of move forward again.”

So, Spotlight will run one final weeklong camp Aug. 8-12 in Riverhead at Vail-Leavitt Music Hall (established in 1881). The camp will culminate with a showcase on the final day, with selected numbers from shows over the course of Spotlight’s history. “It will be a celebration of our 10 years,” said Ms. Galway.

About 16 youngsters are registered in the program, whereas 30 to 40 had been the typical enrollment in the years preceding the pandemic, she said.

Ms. Moore and Ms. Galway met in the early 1990s at NYU, where Ms. Moore taught drama therapy. Ms. Galway was her student and intern. They later reconnected after moving to eastern Long Island (Ms. Moore lives in New Suffolk and Ms. Galway in East Quogue).

Ms. Moore had a great-uncle who was an opera composer and has fond memories as a youngster of dressing up with items from her family’s costume closet. She said: “I had all this background of art © It’s in my blood.”

Ms. Galway had three young, theater-inclined daughters, who later went through the Spotlight program.

Ms. Moore said: “We got together and said, ‘You know what? Let’s do children’s theater.’ ”

Initially, the duo joined forces with a third partner to form ACT OUT East All Children’s Theatre around 2009. But that partnership was dissolved in the spring of 2012 after its final production, “Guys and Dolls.” The fall of that year, Spotlight was born, opening with “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Sophia Burke of Wading River, who started out as an 11-year-old student in ACT OUT East, later became an intern and is the current stage manager for Spotlight. “She’s been with us the whole ride,” said Ms. Galway.

Spotlight is about more than just acting, dancing and singing. The group accepts youngsters of all abilities and finds a place for them. Kids with autism, mental illness, emotional issues and other problems are welcomed. The therapeutic value of theater is real, said the founders.

“It helps kids with their confidence, with their ability to interact with others, with their ability to problem-solve on their feet, improvise, all of that,” Ms. Galway said. “It just makes them more flexible and more self-confident overall.”

“We have worked with kids who have been extremely shy in social situations,” she continued. “We get them onstage playing a character, and they just come right out of their shell, and that’s been so exciting to see that transformation onstage and beyond.”

Kim Galway, cofounder of Spotlight, surrounded by Oompa Loompas in 2018.

The pandemic erased the momentum Spotlight had been building. When the pandemic struck in March of 2020, Spotlight was in the middle of rehearsing for a scheduled May performance of “High School Musical.”

The show never happened.

“We just had to stop production on everything,” Ms. Galway said. “You know, we didn’t know what was happening. We held out hope for a while and whatnot, but we had to just shut it down.”

Except for an online program, Spotlight had effectively been sidelined for two years before returning this past winter and spring, when it presented “The Addams Family.”

“Actually, ‘The Addams Family’ was one of our greatest shows,” Ms. Galway said. “It was a fantastic production.”

But the writing was on the wall. Spotlight’s days were numbered, and it was more than just finances. It was also life.

“I think we all kind of changed because of those COVID two years,” Ms. Galway said. “Darby had retired and, you know, she’s sort of living that retired life. Sophia had become more focused on college and school and my private practice grew and I started doing some other things. I do college counseling now, so everybody, we all sort of also grew away from the theater, whereas it was pretty much an intense focus for the 10 years.”

Still, there is no questioning the impact Spotlight has made. Some of its students have gone on to perform in high school and pursue theater in college. And, beyond theater, Spotlight aided in the development of youngsters, said the founders.

“I think that what we did over these years was magic,” said Ms. Moore.

Said Ms. Galway: “I’m pretty proud of the program and the impact we made on our students over the years. Just seeing them, seeing the alumni out and about and seeing how successful they’ve been, how they’ve taken what they learned while working with us, and it’s made them sort of more creative and more willing to take risks. It’s been really great seeing them develop and blossom as kids. That’s really my proudest moment of Spotlight.”

What will the emotions be like for the curtain-closing finale?

“Oh, it’s going to be terrible,” Ms. Moore said. “I mean, I’m going to cry — and the kids will, too.”

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