Footlights Theatre Program History
Celebrating 41 Years!
In 1975, Alex Clemente of The Erie School District and Len Ekimoff of the City of Erie’s Parks and Recreation Department created the most unique summer recreation program our city has to offer. A Musical Theatre program that would be free to all Erie children, regardless of experience, background, or social status. They would learn first hand about theatre through the production of a full–length musical. Every child would have their moment in the spotlight, and no one would be turned away.
That summer, they presented the very first “Student Summer Theatre” show, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”.
In 1976, Jim Schneider took charge of the program and not only served as Technical Director, but also Directed many of the productions himself. Jim kept the light burning for 14 years. From 1986 through 1989, he handed the directing reins over to Shawn Clerkin, Fred Schleicher (Alumni), and Danelle Miller-Smith (Alumni), but still ran the program and served as Technical Director.
Len Ekimoff also retired in 1989, and the City of Erie Parks decided to have administration duties of all Recreation Programs handed over to local Non-Profit Organizations. Since then, G.E.C.A.C. ,The YWCA of Erie, and the YMCA of Greater Erie have all served as administrators.
In 1990, Jim retired and handed the reigns of The Student Summer Theatre Program over to David W. Mitchell (Alumni).
In 1994, there was talk of making summer theatre a year- round program, and the name “Student Summer Theatre” seemed inadequate for a program that was no longer seasonal. A contest was held with the kids in the program that year to choose a new name. The children voted —and “Student Summer Theatre” was reborn as “The Footlights Theatre Program.” Unfortunately, the year-round program never came to be, but the “Footlights” name remained.
David W. Mitchell retired as Director in the summer of 2009 after 20 summers of providing Erie Youth an educational theatrical experience. He still Serves as Program Administrator. He passed the reins to Rachel Rudd (Alumni), one of his first students who had served the program not only as a student, but also as choreographer and Assistant Director. In 2012, KC McCloskey (Alumni) who also served 5 years as Assistant Director assumed command of Footlights.
Now in 2013, “The Footlights Theatre Program.” remains one of the longest running and most successful programs our city has to offer our youth. Four Mayors and three Administrators later, we still survive.
The Footlights Theatre Program has exposed countless young people and their families to the magic of live Theatre and the Arts. It has taught them more than just the value of live entertainment, but how to reach beyond the barriers brought about by their differences and instead work together to achieve a common goal. It has taught them the values of hard work, discipline, and the joyous feeling of giving something back to the community. Most importantly, it has taught them the value of making someone smile. All thanks to the vision of three men who believed in the good of our youth and that with the proper guidance, children can accomplish anything.
Forty years is truly a milestone in a time where programs for the Arts are usually cut instead of continued. Many of these children may never do theatre again. Some may go on to pursue it on a community, semi-professional, or professional level. Some may be content to simply remain an audience member. Whatever the case may be, they will take this experience with them, and remember for the rest of their lives the three nights one summer, where they got to be a star.