Nov. 10--ASHLAND -- Theater people will tell you those on stage feel a kind of bond that can only be described as family.
Those involved with the Paramount Players community theater group say the same thing: Theater changed their lives.
Hailey Browning, 12, of South Point, is one example, her mother said.
Browning, a sixth-grader at South Point Middle School, has earned self confidence as a result of appearing on stage. Her first show was "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" when she was 8; she was a member of the angel choir. Since then, she has appeared in 10 Paramount Players' productions and has taken acting, dancing and singing lessons through the Paramount in hopes of landing a larger role next time.
"Hailey has become such a confident young lady by being part of the PAC, not only on stage but at school and her everyday life," her mother, Sherrie Browning, said. "There is nothing that she doesn't believe she can do." Hailey's father is Olen Browning; she has a younger brother named Jensen.
Melanie R. Cornelison, director of education and outreach at the Paramount Arts Center, home of the Paramount Players, also is artistic director of the actors' troupe.
She said she recalls discovering theater.
"I grew up in a family, we all did sports and I played sports and enjoyed sports, but I can very much remember we also grew up on watching old movie musicals and I always felt the connection with that," she said. "When I was about 12, my mom found an audition for a local theater group and that was it. I never looked back."
Browning said her daughter dreams of being on Broadway some day. "If determination will get her there, I believe she just might do it," Mrs. Browning said. Meanwhile, working with Cornelison and the staff and other actors at the Paramount is a great help.
"Melanie has helped her grow and I know the experiences she has had will help her in school now and later in life," Mrs. Browning said. "We feel blessed to have found such a great group of people."
Change of course
Seventeen-year-old Whyatt Wheeler was a football player and co-captain of the track team at Lawrence County High School when he participated for the first time in a Paramount Players' production of "The Sound of Music."
"From then on, I have grown as an actor and gotten bigger and bigger parts with each show," he said. "It was hard balancing sports and the play. When summer rolled around it was time for auditions for 'Camp Rock the Musical.' I knew there was no way I could balance the play and football. So I decided that if I got a lead part in the show then I would quit football.
"I auditioned and I got the part of Sander. When I quit the football team, I was criticized by a lot of my peers. But I didn't belong there, I felt more at home on the stage. Even members of my family didn't approve. However my grandmother still supported me through it all. When I came to the Paramount I was welcomed with open arms."
Wheeler said he has no regrets about leaving sports for theater, which has played an important role in his life.
"I used to be insecure with myself. I would always try to impress the kids at school and be cool and it just wasn't me," he recalled. "A friend told me about the auditions for 'Sound of Music' and wanted me to come, and I did.
"I had a lot of home problems as a child and acting was a way for me to escape from it all."
Wheeler said he plans to pursue a career in theater, starting by studying musical theater at Northern Kentucky University.
He said he owes a great deal to Cornelison.
"She is like my theater mom," he said. "She helps me and has taught and continues to teach me all that I know about theater. She is one of my heroes and I hope to be as successful as her. Who knows? Maybe one day I, too, will work at the Paramount."
Cornelison said she appreciates getting to be a part of the lives of students.
"It feels great to be able to do something you love as much as I do and making a career of it is a very special thing," she said.
Morgan Casto fell in love with theater when she got the part of Leesil in "The Sound of Music" at PAC.
The senior at Russell High School said she has career aspirations in speech that involve the stage.
"I've decided to major in music theater and speech pathology and combine the two," she said. "I've been working with special needs classes at my high school on theater projects and putting on a program. I wouldn't have thought to do that if I hadn't gone through my first audition."
Casto, daughter of Mark and Greta Casto of Wurtland, also had one of the roles of Dorothy in the recent production of "Wizard of Oz."
She said she also has grown personally from her work in theater.
"The first night (of auditions for 'The Sound of Music') 80 some people showed up for one of the Von Trapp children," she said, adding the group was divided into age-specific groups. "Then, they brought up the older children and we each did a reading. We were there until 11 and I was scared to death, but there was a point they asked if they could get me some shoes because I wasn't tall enough to play the part and that gave me some confidence to keep going," she said. "I kept coming back because they've been good to me and it's a great place to do theater."
She said that experience helped grown her confidence, but musical theater is good for everyone, even those who participate as an audience member.
"Even if you're not a musical theater person, at least coming to shows and being part of the arts is important because it helps you see the world differently and think of people differently because you have more respect for what they do, you're more accepting of what they do.
"Regardless of who you are, you have a way to express yourself and a lot of people don't cultivate that in their lives enough."
LEE WARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2661.
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