Parent revives musical theater program at Decatur's Johns Hill Magnet School 🎤🎵
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Parent revives musical theater program at Decatur's Johns Hill Magnet School 🎤🎵

Parent revives musical theater program at Decatur's Johns Hill

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DECATUR – Ryan Rinchiuso loved theater at Johns Hill Magnet School when he was a student — and continues to be involved even as an adult.

When his children started attending Johns Hill, he discovered that no one had taken on the task of overseeing the drama club for several years.

“My older daughter is in seventh grade and they haven't had one since she's been here,” Rinchiuso said.

Rinchiuso is a teacher at the Heartland Technical Academy, and two daughters attend Johns Hill.

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“Both my daughters were in BOSS (Best of Summer Stock) with the Decatur Park District and they loved it,” he said. “I used to go to Johns Hill in the mid-'90s, and we had plays then. I loved doing it. It was one of my favorite things to do when I moved to Decatur. I just wondered whatever happened to it. I asked some people in the (Parent-Teacher Organization) and they said interest waned. Nothing really happened to it.”

When they told him all it would take to bring it back was parents willing to pitch in, he said he'd be willing to “help” but found himself in charge instead, he said with a chuckle.

“I do a lot of the shows during the summer, and I always really enjoy performing and music,” said his daughter, Lily, a seventh-grader. “One night I just asked him, 'Hey, why don't we have a drama club anymore?' So he went to the principal and asked and they said 'We're just waiting for somebody to take over,' and two days later, he's now the director of it.”

But that was OK; he knew the students at Johns Hill would enjoy the activity, especially his own daughters.

“We're a performing arts school,” said Lillian Renfro, an eighth-grader.

The school has numerous other fine arts activities, including show choir, art classes and bands, and the theater component was the only one missing, Lillian said.

The students are now hard at work rehearsing “Frozen,” and will give their performances at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, in the Eisenhower High School auditorium, which Rinchiuso said is newer and larger than the one at Johns Hill. Tickets cost $5 for children and $8 for adults and are available at the Johns Hill school office or at the door.

“I have had tremendous help on the play from parents of students in the show, the PTO, school staff and friends every day,” Rinchiuso said. “I have not done this alone and wouldn't have been able to do this show without their help.”

One of the things that Rinchiuso said he likes most about theater and fine arts is that participants make strong, long-lasting friendships, and he's seen it happen among the students in the cast of “Frozen,” as well. They sit together at lunch, they support each other and kids who hardly knew each other before rehearsals began are fast friends now.

Because most of the students who wanted to be involved are girls, the males' parts are played by girls. Lillian, for example, will portray Kristoff. Lily Rinchiuso will be Princess Anna, and Kaitlyn Rueter is Queen Elsa.

This year is Kaitlyn's first at Johns Hill, after a long wait for a spot to open up in the magnet school, she said.

“Everyone couldn't have been more welcoming,” Kaitlyn said. “I've only been here since the beginning of the school year, and it's like I'm family.”


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Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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