“Katie would love it.”
The thought came to Kimberly Voller as she and Michele Hellyer, both of Marengo, worked on the script for “Kéanu’s Moon.” The same thought is bound to come to mind as the musical opens this weekend.
“Just seeing it come to life is going to be so emotional,” Hellyer said.
Voller founded the nonprofit Christian Arts Student Theatre in Marengo 11 years ago as a way for kids to “use the gifts they have and shine on stage” and has served as the theater group’s volunteer director ever since.
Putting on at least one show a year, CAST – made up of about 60 children ages 5 to 18 in this latest production – will perform “Kéanu’s Moon” April 28-30 at Marengo Community High School, 110 Franks Road. Shows are scheduled for 7 p.m. April 28-29 and 3 p.m. April 30. Tickets cost $10 at 815-354-2619 or www.castmarengo.com or $14 at the door.
Every show Voller has put on means something, but there’s more to the story behind “Kéanu’s Moon” – a show dedicated to Katie Kloess, a teacher at Zion Lutheran School in Marengo who, at the age of 29, was killed Dec. 15, 2016, in a two-vehicle crash.
Voller came up with the concept – an underwater musical about sea turtles of the Pacific Ocean. Guided by Voller, Hellyer wrote it. It’s a first for both, who now can call themselves playwrights.
In one scene, the turtles go on a scavenger hunt, an outing inspired by a similar hunt Voller had suggested years ago to Kloess when her son was in Kloess’ seventh-grade class.
Kloess jumped at the idea back then, and, for the past several years, she and Holler would take Kloess’ students to Chicago once a year. They’d stop at Millennuim Park, Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue and Lincoln Park Zoo, challenging the students to check off items gathered and take part in activities along the way.
Writing “Kéanu’s Moon” last summer, Voller and Hellyer wanted to surprise Kloess with a similar scene in the musical.
“I knew she would think that’s so cool that we incorporated it into our show,” Voller said.
But a couple of months after they’d finished writing, Kloess was killed. “Then it became even more important,” Voller said of the scene and the show.
Along with the scene, Kloess will be remembered at the musical with what those who knew her well are calling “blessons,” a combination of a blessing and a lesson. “A blesson is a blessing you find through a life lesson,” Hellyer said.
They’ve created what Hellyer describes as clay balls with smiley faces connected to cards that describe their #Kindness4Katie movement. Along with a picture of Katie holding a koala bear during her student teaching days in Australia, the cards talk about her “trademark smile and kind heart.”
“She effortlessly taught everyone she knew to be yourself, appreciate the challenge and be grateful for all God’s blessings,” the card reads. “In honor of Katie, let your blesson remind you how even in the darkest days, faith keeps us strong.”
The money raised from the sale of the blessons will go toward a tribute plaque in Kloess’ name at Lincoln Park Children’s Zoo in Chicago, one of the stops on the seventh-grade scavenger hunt. Kloess student taught in Australia and loved animals.
The effort is one of many reasons “Kéanu’s Moon” means so much to its creators, cast and crew and likely its audiences.
It’s a story about Kéanu, a sea turtle devoted to Mahina, or the moon. “The moon is encouraging and inspiring and helps guide her and support her,” said Helllyer, who also wrote the lyrics to two songs in the musical, while area musician Suzie Schwartz wrote the music. Hellyer’s daughter, Raina, learned to play ukulele for the show.
“We wanted this turtle to have some type of spiritual support,” Hellyer said. “We felt the moon was a perfect match.”
“Kéanu’s Moon” also is a story about overcoming fear, working hard, making tough decisions and relying on one another – both on stage and off.
“This whole thing definitely has been amazing,” said Hellyer, who works in the pharmaceutical business, but always has enjoyed writing and dreamt of writing a novel.
“I try and just tell my kids this is why you should never doubt what you could do,” she said. “When you have a passion for something just really stick with it, find a way.”
For Voller, who hasn’t let Hellyer see the entire show during rehearsals because she wants her to see it fresh on opening night, “Kéanu’s Moon” is about her cast and the many parents and family members who’ve volunteered to help out – now a “family.”
“The kids have worked very hard for me,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about is the kids and seeing them be excited and their faces light up when they get on stage.”