To the Editors:

This summer marks the fifth time I have entered one of my children in the Wilton Children’s Theater lottery. I encourage those parents on the fence about registering their child to “just do it.” I am now hook, line and sinker a massive WCT fan —although I confess I certainly didn’t start off that way.

I’ve learned a lot about mixed-aged play and the importance of taking risks over the last few years through my volunteer work with Wilton Youth Council. WCT is a unique opportunity with a wide range of ages playing and working together. In addition to the cast members in grades 4-8, there are high school volunteer interns (grades 10-12), many coming to every single rehearsal and who have critical roles in making the show a success. In addition, there are parent volunteers and professionals producing the show.

All participants benefit from this unique environment by developing their “soft” skills, including social skills, communication, teamwork, flexibility and attitude to name a few. These interns and older cast members are role models and mentors for those younger. They learn and grow by teaching and practicing leadership. Not only do younger children learn more from older kids, they also typically receive more emotional support from them.

The very nature of performing gives children the opportunity to take risks —an important part of healthy development —and develop an internal locus of control. Once accepted, all audition to see which roles they will hold. Usually starting with safety in numbers in the ensemble (which still requires courage to perform and sing on stage in front of hundreds), to speaking lines, and possibly a bigger role. They also learn how to conquer fears, to be disappointed and frustrated by not getting the role they wanted and learn that they will be OK and move on. They learn that every single one of them has a role in the success of the show.

I was blown away with how they would know (with authority) exactly what kind of makeup, hair, costume change and props they needed for each scene better than any dedicated parent volunteer.

I’ve witnessed so many special moments —seeing an awkward child find their voice and shine on the stage, watching the older children quiet the younger children — many with the younger kids on their laps as they grew weary as the show night went on, and observing them all huddled around the “green room” screen backstage, cheering on one of their fellow performers rocking her solo. The camaraderie and sense of community that is built among the 55 children, interns and volunteers is palpable.

We live in a sport- and academic-centric community and WCT gives kids another chance to shine. Our kids need more opportunities to let them (and us!) learn what they are capable of —and WCT is the ticket.

Vanessa Elias

Wilton, Aug. 6