Warrior Words: Welcome to the family

Inspired by the idea of a “kula,” or “soul family” eloquently discussed in a previously published article by my fellow Warrior Words columnist Abby Schiff, I began to think of the many little “families” that I have been part of over the years in Wilton. This article is my letter of thanks and appreciation to all of my families for the friendship, partnership and mentoring I am so fortunate to have enjoyed.

The timing of this article is opportune as it permits an unabashed shout-out for my Wilton High School theater family as we are opening two new productions in the next two weeks: Freeplay: A Night of Improv Comedy, a not-to-be-missed, hilarious, one-of-a-kind show (Jan. 28, 29, and 30 in the WHS Little Theater), and Superheroes, this year’s much-anticipated senior class show, featuring more than 90 students from the Class of 2016 (Feb. 4, 5 and 6 at the Clune Center). Be sure to check them out!!

From my first experience on stage with Wilton Children’s Theater to my participation in theater at Wilton High School, my theater families have been a central part of my life and have helped shape the person I am today. Narrowing my lens to focus on my high school experience, I feel truly privileged to have been part of so many different casts.  From my first unforgettable experience as a freshman in Les Misérables, to my most recent adventure in The Man Who Came to Dinner, each cast family has left its mark on me. In many ways, each cast family is similar; we are high-energy teens who share a love of theater and a motivation for successful performances. We spend hours together during the span of each production learning lines, developing characters, learning choreography and working on our amazing sets. Under the tutelage of our tireless adult mentors — producer and costume designer extraordinaire Mrs. Koz, our remarkable directors, Sharon Anderson, Meredith Walker, Chris Koz, Heather DeLude-Grillo, and Mary Jo Duffy, our amazing choreographer Kristin Ruggieri, our ingenious set designer Christian Planton, and our incredible orchestra conducted by our beloved band teacher Chip Gawle — WHS students come together and the hard work of the theater family culminates into something truly spectacular, a Wilton High School Theater production.

Each cast family has been unique, developing a distinctive personality over months of rehearsals. As a freshman, I was in awe at the magnitude of talent that surrounded me and the welcoming spirit of upperclassmen in my experience in Les Mis. Sophomore year, Second City alum and beloved WHS English teacher Mrs. DeLude-Grillo inspired and mentored our first-ever WHS Improv Troupe, creating what is now one of the most talked-about WHS performances each year. More recently, I was so thrilled to be part of the cast family of The Man Who Came to Dinner. This cast was unlike any other. We quickly came to the realization that when putting on a fast-paced farce comedy, it was necessary to rely heavily on each other for cues, entrances and comedic timing. This required trust both onstage and offstage. In every show I have done, we have formed a tightly knit cast. Our TMWCTD cast, however, was different. We were constantly laughing, constantly relying on one another onstage and offstage, and sharing in the excitement of a truly successful production.

This winter, the Senior Show has allowed our theater family to grow tremendously, as we welcome newbies to the theater department, including captains from WHS girls basketball and hockey teams to seasoned lacrosse players. Naturally, the dynamic of the group has shifted, as the “theater kids” and the newcomers meld into one cohesive, vibrant cast and band of heroes (and sidekicks!).

From my first time on stage in Wilton Children’s Theater’s production of Willy Wonka Jr. in fifth grade, to the last bow I will take on the Clune Center stage later this year, I have found close friends, mentors, and myself while performing, and I cannot thank my theater family enough for the inspiration, love and memories.

Grace Kelleher is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.