Volunteer creates magic behind the scenes at Oak Hills ElementaryMay 12, 2023 11:00AM ● By Kerry Angelbuer
Audri Ence works on sets at Oak Hills Elementary. Ence has been volunteering for the last 10 years. Each set takes hundreds of hours to complete. Courtesy photo
If a parents wants their child to participate in the play at Oak Hills Elementary, they must volunteer in some way. Audri Ence checked the box “set design” 10 years ago and that started a long tenure of service in this area.
The first five years Ence was on the set design committee and the last five she was set director. She loves to “create the magic that allows the kids to shine.” The play chosen is usually different every year, though they performed “A Little Mermaid, Jr.” twice. Plays also included the junior versions of Aladdin, Wizard of Oz, High School Musical, Seussical, Elf, Shrek, Lion King and Frozen. Sometimes they can repurpose some scenery from previous years. The barn doors for “Shrek,” for example, became the castle gates for “Frozen.” Sets became so extensive, a PTA shed was purchased to store them. Sets have been rented out to other schools and the Special Needs group who puts on a play each year at the Regional Center.
Participating in a play is life changing for a child, Ence said. She loves to see children attend three months of early morning rehearsals and to come out of their shells and do something that stretches them.
At the elementary level, Ence said kids are still young and uninhibited and less worried about social pressure. “They are more nervous though performing for their peers during school, than the evening performances attended by their families and neighbors.”
Many of the kids who participate in the Oak Hills musical go on to try out for the Millcreek Junior High play because they have developed the needed “confidence,” she said. Even from the first dress rehearsal to the last show, she sees children grow into their roles. Ence recalls one girl, Tory who was very shy, who earned the role of Ursula, a powerful evil witch in “The Little Mermaid.” The role was life-changing for this girl as she came out of her shell and expressed a big, powerful presence. Ence said again and again, she has seen children excel and find a place where they can shine.
Ence had a position as art teacher at Oak Hills for a few years so was able to get to know many children in this setting which further helped her realize the huge impact participating in a play can have on children helping them be themselves in different, even transformative ways.
After 10 years of supporting her children at Oak Hills, her last child is leaving for Junior High. Ence said she will miss the great social outlet she experienced working for more than 200 hours on each play’s set. “I formed really wonderful friendships with the individuals that worked beside me helping create the sets for each play.”
She said one mother loved the camaraderie so much she returned to help the next year even though she didn’t have a student at the school.
Ence said that the work was all about having fun and enjoying the pleasure the kids took in the process. Play nights are magical for the students, the parents, and the support crew, and she is happy to have had a part of that for a decade.λ