Two years ago, Taylor Louderman graduated from TeamSTAGES, a 16-member a capella singing group that has performed all over St. Louis and as far as New York and Disney World. Today, she is starring in her first Broadway show: Bring It On. “Almost all TeamSTAGES graduates have gone on to a performance degree in college,” says Jack Lane, executive producer at STAGES St. Louis.
The talented group of teens comes from all over the city and the county, and they practice intensively, Lane says. All the work pays off though, as it did during three performances of the national anthem at Ground Zero, when the group recently visited Manhattan to see Louderman’s performance. “It was overwhelming for the people who were there,” he says. “When the instrument is your voice, it just cuts through everything. It can be deeply emotional.”
The APPLAUSE! gala, which takes place on Nov. 9 at The Ritz-Carlton, is the biggest annual fundraiser for TeamSTAGES and the many other educational and artistic programs put on by STAGES every year, Lane notes. “Our performing arts academy in Chesterfield opened in 2004; it’s the hub of our activities, but we have extensive outreach that will touch the lives of more than 4,000 students this year alone, and we will give more than $70,000 in scholarships. We have never turned a child away from the program because they don’t have the resources.”
Even for students who don’t go on to careers in the arts, an intensive arts experience can be valuable in developing life skills and self-esteem, Lane says. “It changes lives,” he affirms. “One of my greatest joys is that after a hard day of work, I can walk out of our offices and downstairs to sit in on a class. More often than not, in any class, you can see a child have that ah-ha moment, where they start being part of something and being comfortable with who they are—being themselves. This type of confidence transcends the arts into so many fields of study. I’ve seen children change from just one class, they see it’s OK to be yourself.”
The nonprofit’s outreach programs include intensive, semester-long workshops at City Academy, Marian Middle School and Herbert Hoover Boys’ and Girls’ Club. Troupe Broadway, a group of children with disabilities such as visual impairments, autism and Down Syndrome, will perform at the Applause gala, along with the students from TeamSTAGES. Also performing will be Corinne Melançon, the current star of Mama Mia on Broadway; and Fox 2’s Kevin Steincross will serve as the evening’s host. Judy Kent, who chaired the event for its first 10 years, is returning for the 11th fundraiser as honorary chair, with Lisa Nichols and Lynne Turley serving as co-chairs.
“Some of the proudest moments, for me and for a lot of the staff at STAGES, have to do with our education programs,” Lane says. “We have been blessed by the amazing support the community has shown us. They have embraced the programs, and this is the most important night of the year in regard to those programs.”