Group puts local children’s stories center stage

Gasps, cheers, “oohs” and “ahs” resonated through an audience of about 50 people Friday during the final performance by the Student Playwright Outreach Theatre project.

The Student Playwright Outreach Theatre, or SPOT, used stories submitted by fourth and fifth grade students from Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Champaign to create 18 sketches that were performed in the Studio Theatre at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Through the Theater Department, University students worked together to create the show. The actors performed the sketches in a production for just the elementary students at 10 a.m. Friday and performed again for the public Friday evening.

Julia Celentano, sophomore in FAA, coordinated the project this year. Celentano was an actor in the production her freshman year and accepted the role as coordinator this year after having an “absolutely fantastic time” the previous year. She said she sees value for the students in having their work come to life.

“When you’re in school, it’s all great that you write stories and all that,” Celentano said. “But it’s a completely different experience knowing that someone took the time and was so inspired by your work that they would take the time to do this and put it on stage.”

Parents of the children also expressed appreciation for their children’s work being turned into skits. Mahesh Gubba, father of Anisha Gubba, a fifth grade student at Booker T. Washington, said he thinks such a project is valuable for children because it will engage the children further in the writing process.

“It’s actually good because it gets them into the thinking mode,” Gubba said. “They write stories, but they’re not very attentive to the detail of it. When something like this happens, they get more interested in it.”

Gubba added that Anisha was very enthusiastic about seeing her story on stage. Anisha commented that it “felt as if it was a real movie.”

Actors in the SPOT Project said they appreciated the opportunity to participate in the project. Natasha Larkin, exchange student from England, said she chose to act in the show because of the outreach aspect of the production.

“I’m quite interested in theater in the community,” Larkin said.

Justice Janowski, junior in FAA, assistant coordinator and actor in the SPOT Project, said the experience was one of the most rewarding in her life. She said she wants to be an educator in the future and found that watching the children’s talent come to life was inspiring for kids and adults alike.

Fighting back tears, Janowski said, “Seeing them happy made me proud because it’s like they’re proud of themselves.”