May 05--DECATUR -- You may be able to sing and dance, but can you "wow" an audience is the bigger question.
The professionals who create the Decatur Park Singers' shows each year know how to tell the difference.
During the auditions, music director Christopher Weisenborn and choreographer Gretchen Burghart look for the performer who can memorize a musical number quickly. The professionals, along with Marie Jagger-Taylor, cultural arts manager for the Decatur Park District, also look for someone who can withstand the fast-paced performances. But the most important character for a Decatur Park Singer is being a representative for Decatur.
"We look for people who aren't afraid to talk to the audience or a complete stranger," Weisenborn said.
"It's not just the performing," Jagger-Taylor said. "We want kids who want to go out and be ambassadors."
Before they find the newest Decatur representatives, the professionals take a year to create the show. Throughout the year, they will meet to critique last year's performances and discuss plans for the upcoming year. They consider current trends in fashion, music and even television and movies. By March, the plans are set.
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But that can all change after the performers have been chosen.
"Are we on the right page for the performers we have?" Jagger-Taylor may ask the group. "How do we use the work we have already in place?"
These questions and stresses are not new to the professionals. All have experienced working in the industry.
As the Maroa-Forsyth School District choir director, Weisenborn has two jobs that overlap. Before his teaching job ends in May, the Park Singers will have already had three weeks. "They sing a lot over a couple of days," he said.
At 27 years old, Weisenborn is older than the performers. But he understands the rigorous schedule he puts upon them. Weisenborn performed with the Decatur Park Singers as a pianist from 2005 to 2007. And as the summer supervisor, he also travels with the group, is the master of ceremonies, contacts the host and supervises the set-up and tear-down of the stage.
"It has been nice to have his past experience with the program," Jagger-Taylor said, "and his musical talents and his passion for the Decatur Park Singer program."
For more than 20 years, Jagger-Taylor has worked in various stage performances as a professional actress and dancer in productions such as "Hairspray," "West Side Story" and toured with "A Chorus Line." Jagger-Taylor was adjunct professor of dance at Millikin University and director of education for the Little Theatre-on the Square in Sullivan.
"Being in the arts is a big responsibility," she said. "There is a lot to learn."
Burghart studied with Jagger-Taylor as a student at Millikin. Burghart is now an adjunct professor for Millikin University's dance and theater department. She knows the performers need to be hard working. "I'm also a singer," she said. "So I know that they have to be able to carry their weight."
Burghart was fortunate to be able to use her talent on a much bigger stage as well. After graduating from Millikin University in 2002, she lived in New York for seven years. Burghart toured with a national group throughout the United States and Canada during the first Broadway tours of "Legal Blonde" and "Fame."
While teaching master dance classes in New York, she decided she loved to teach. In 2009, Burghart returned to Illinois and began teaching at her mother's studio Jan's Dance Studio in Chatham. "Springfield doesn't know they have a Broadway actress," said Jagger-Taylor. "The Park Singers are fortunate to have someone with this talent."
"This is grooming them for the future," Burghart reminds the performers. The summer program will have the performers asking the question "Do I love it this much?"
"While performing in hot 90-degree weather night after night, it teaches them how to work hard and do it with a smile," Burghart said. "You have to love your art."
As the summer supervisor, Weisenborn has had several run-ins and time to ask the same question "do I love it?" Last year, during the country's record-breaking heat wave, the group experienced two flat tires, an overheated bus and a collision with a deer, all on one of the hottest days.
"To do something you love to do and to see their reactions and to hear the positive comments after the show makes the program," said Weisenborn. "We feed off the audience."
Jagger-Taylor finds her joy in watching the performers.
"How lucky I've been to see the kids grow into the Park Singers," she said. "They are our future."
(c)2013 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)
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