Artist Spotlight – Bernadette Walsh

“Theatre is more than a song and a dance. Theatre awakens something within a child and when they’re on that stage, they can be anything that they want to be…”

Such are the sentiments of Bernadette Walsh, General Director of UpStage Players along with Board Member and volunteer, Matt Orgovan, who agrees. The two believe that growing up with a background in theater helps to instill self-confidence.  It helps children to be better public speakers, perform better with homework and to become more well-rounded individuals.

That transformative power of theatre for youth development was a core philosophy of Upstage Players, a North Shore Collinwood-based theatrical organization that was created for and dedicated to the child performer and served as the first Drama Builders Club for Kiwanis in the State of Ohio.

Performers normally range from ages 5 to 15, and older kids help out backstage with costumes, building sets and doing tech work. Children with special needs are also encouraged to participate and, of course, adults may volunteer as well.
The organization prides itself on instilling a love of theatre in local youth, while also helping children build extensive leadership and civic skills. The Upstage Players not only perform onstage, they also participate in service projects around the community. The group has performed for senior centers and participated in various programming throughout the holidays. Ultimately, Walsh would like to see UpStage be positioned to generate income opportunities and scholarship opportunities for participating youth.

Opposite this strong attention to youth development, UpStage Players also boasts an improv group and a troupe of hearty adult actors that participate in performing murder mysteries. Proceeds earned from those performances circulate back into funding for the children’s stage productions. Each production carries a price tag of at least $20,000.

So, of course, fundraising and grantwriting join the extensive duties of the organization.

“There’s no cost to anything we do,” shares Walsh, “but there’s a lot of spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfasts and sales of t-shirts.”

That flurry of activity has found a welcoming community in North Shore Collinwood. For the past five years, UpStage Players has made its home on Waterloo Road, tucked inside the Slovenian Workmen’s Home in Collinwood. Walsh, a former resident, believes that North Shore Collinwood is becoming an increasingly vital area for the arts.

“I think it’s friendly. There’s a lot to offer here, and you have the potential of this being a Little Italy or Tremont.”

As the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District continues to grow, Walsh, Orgovan and the other visionaries behind UpStage Players are working to raise the visibility of UpStage as a key creative anchor … And equally importantly, to raise the visibility of the group’s youth artists themselves.

“We really want to be able to continue getting the Upstage name out there because these kids deserve so much credit,” explains Orgovan.

“They’ll take the memory of acting and performing with UpStage and the leadership qualities that they get and the confidence that they build throughout the years. It’s priceless … and it’s lifelong.”

See UpStage’s young artists in action in their exciting production of The Little Mermaid. The show takes place at the Slovenian Workmen’s Home (15335 Waterloo Road), Friday, March 22nd at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 23rd at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 24th, at 2:30 p.m. For additional information, visit
www.upstageplayers.com.