DECATUR — Fame is the aim of the characters in the show that talented young actors, singers and dancers are portraying this weekend.
Some of them are harboring dreams that easily match those of their characters.
And if they ever achieve those goals, they may look back at the days when a married couple with a passion for theater and dance instructed and encouraged them.
Alex V. Miller, 37, a professional actor and theater professor, is directing “Fame! Jr.,” a musical to be performed this weekend by 50 high school and junior high students in the Decatur Park District’s Best of Summer Stock program.
Angie F. Miller, 35, a professional dancer and instructor, is the show’s choreographer.
The couple met in a ballet class at Webster University in St. Louis, where she was studying dance and he was preparing for a stage career.
He was a few steps behind Angie Miller, who had been prancing around in dance slippers almost since birth. So when the instructor recommended he stand behind her to keep up with the class, he went along.
That was 14 years ago. They have been dancing together and passing on their love of performing to students ever since.
Before moving to Central Illinois, for Angie Miller to earn her master’s degree in dance and choreography at the University of Illinois, they lived and performed with professional dance and theater companies in New York City. When she completed her degree, they were hired to teach at Millikin University. He is an associate theater professor; she is a dance instructor.
Lindsey Austin, a 14-year-old high school freshman who plans to perform one day on Broadway, said Alex Miller has helped her to develop deeper acting skills.
“In the past, it’s been more just saying the lines and getting the message across,” said Lindsey, who is playing the role of Carmen Diaz. “Now, I can feel my character’s pain and what they’re going through. I can bring my emotions into the character’s emotions. It’s an amazing feeling. You can be a totally different person.”
Lindsey said the director has made her understand that “there’s a reason why the character is saying something, a reason why the writer did everything in (the play).”
“I feel that I am at a totally different level than I used to be with it,” she said.
Morgan Anderson, a 15-year-old junior who plans to be a movie actor, said Angie Miller has helped her make a leap in her dancing ability.
“In the past, dance has been fun and OK,” said Morgan, a member of the dance ensemble in the show. “With Angie, I feel like I can be a dancer instead of just dancing.”
Marie Jagger-Taylor, the park district’s cultural arts supervisor, said she hired the Millers because she wanted the young performers to receive the benefits of professional instruction.
“They’re wonderful teachers and artists. It’s nice to have their energy and enthusiasm,” said Jagger-Taylor. “They’re just really wonderful people and a real treat to have on board with the park district.”
Alex Miller identifies with the struggles young people face, which can be overcome by finding a place to belong and succeed. That is the theme of “Fame! Jr.” and the underlying motivation of many young performers.
“Everyone needs a place, a way to identify themselves,” Alex Miller said. “In high school, they find success in something, validation in something, positive reinforcement in something. If there is such a thing as a calling, theater was mine. That was what I did.”