All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and entrances, and each, in their time, plays many parts.
And if there’s a part to be played on stage, odds are Kathie Comella has played it.
Comella, president and executive producer of the Woodstock Musical Theatre Company, has graced the stage of the Woodstock Opera House for more than half a century, and is as much of a fixture there as the stage lights. But it’s her work with directing generations of children and teaching them love of the stage that earned her the honor of Everyday Hero.
Comella gets that opportunity again as stage manager for the musical “Oliver!”, which, of course, has a child-heavy cast. The musical, opening April 10 and running through April 26, is her third time participating in the Charles Dickens classic turned stage play. She starred in it the first time and directed it the second.
Comella has worked with and directed actors, then their children, and in some cases, their grandchildren during her lifetime on stage.
“Children love to perform, they really do. I just seem to have a connection with them. I don’t talk down to them, and I think they respond to that,” Comella said.
Comella talked about her love of children in theater as she sat in a corner room of the Opera House, the day after the first meeting for the newly assembled cast. Thirty-six children auditioned for the 12 child parts.
In 1964, Comella got her start as part of a local drama program, along with her younger brother, Dave, who got bitten by the theater bug as well. In the decades since, she’s directed him in performances, and he’s directed her.
But it’s Comella’s tireless work to help young people cast in shows, from “Oliver!” to “Annie” and “A Christmas Carol,” that makes her special, said Paul Lockwood, past president of TownSquare Players Inc., the Opera House’s other resident theater company. She finds time to help regardless of whether she’s directing a show, acting in it, managing in it or just helping out, wrote Lockwood, who nominated Comella as an Everyday Hero.
“Some of these young people go on to pursue acting in high school, college and beyond. Kathie’s enthusiasm, friendliness and non-stop encouragement come through, regardless of the particular responsibility she takes on for a show,” Lockwood said.
Comella loves sharing the knowledge that comes from a lifetime on stage, and it’s not only actors and actresses in her particular shows. She helps Scout troops get their theater merit badges – teaching them how to apply makeup to simulate a bruise always is a favorite – and teaching expression at Woodstock Dance Academy.
But just as important to Comella as teaching acting and its associated skills is teaching the history and lore that comes with it. She said children get a kick out of learning it, such as why “upstage” means away from the audience (it goes back to when stages sloped upward to ensure the audience could see everything happening) and why it’s unlucky to whistle in the theater (whistles were used before radio headsets to cue costume and scene changes, which at the wrong time could hurt people or throw a show into chaos).
Even if children don’t continue on in theater, the talents that it nurtures, especially getting in front of a crowd or talking face-to-face in an era of electronic communications, are important, Comella said.
“It’s such a great thing to teach kids how to get in front of people and communicate,” Comella said.