For Brenda Didier, directing Porchlight Music Theatre's production of Billy Elliot The Musical is like coming home again. The show opens the company's 23rd season in their new digs at the Ruth Page Center in Chicago a place that is very familiar to Didier. She has vivid memories as a young dance student. And perhaps most helpful, particularly to the story of Billy Elliot, is rekindling the excitement she experienced realizing her own dream that began when she was eight years old. It all started somewhat by accident, as the best stories always do, and is turning out to be the journey of a lifetime.
That journey is a successful career as a professional dancer, choreographer, director and, along the way, owner of the Lincolnshire Academy of Dance, now in its 20th season. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards including two dozen Jeff award nominations, for which she has received an even split of six each for her choreography and directing in theaters throughout Chicago. The secret to this success, she admits freely, is that this collaborative art form is really all about communication and respect. The best idea in the room always wins she says. And when you are working with the most creative and talented performers that Chicago has to offer, you can bet that there are lots of ideas flying around.
All of that enthusiasm, collaboration and goodwill have seeded a long-standing relationship and string of critically acclaimed projects with Porchlight Music Theatre including Ain't Misbehavin', Forum, In the Heights and the 2016 hit Dreamgirls.
On September 7th, as rehearsals were just getting underway, we spoke with Didier about the move to the Ruth Page, inspiring students to follow their passion and what it is like to work with the largest cast ever assembled in Porchlight's history.
On the cast of Billy Elliot-The Musical… “There are 18 adults in the ensemble and 17 children and they are from all walks of life. When I look at the cast, I don’t think about actors in musical theatre, children, they look like people in a town, community, village outside of London. They look like real people, they act like real people and that’s what is going to resonate. … The talent that came out was incredible.”
The story … “It takes place in a north England town, a small town. It is fiction, but the 1984 miner’s strike is very prevalent … so, it is a community of people, they are on strike, they are poor, they are blue collar, they go through a lot of loss as a town. Billy has lost his mother and is dealing with a grieving father and an angry older brother, a senile grandmother. He stumbles upon a ballet class by accident when he is supposed to be boxing and he finds out that he has a love of dance, by chance. There is a dance teacher and she takes an interest in him. It is about getting behind children in the arts and supporting their dreams no matter what.”
The early days … “I did gymnastics … I actually hated dance. My best friend across the street, Karen, took ballet. Mom wanted me to go with her one day. So I went. I couldn’t stand it. I felt trapped. I liked gymnastics because I could do all the tumbling … I did a lot of kick boxing … played baseball. So, I went to ballet by chance. Hated the whole year but I didn’t quit. Then the recital happened and Ms. Campbell looked at all the eight year-old girls and said ‘Who want to be up front?’ and all the other girls were afraid and I said I would. So, the recital day comes around, I put on the tutu and the curtain rolls open and all of a sudden, that was it! The applause. You couldn’t get me off stage. At that moment, it would all change. I wanted to be on stage and everything else went away.”
On the move to Ruth Page … “It is very exciting. It is very challenging. It is a big step … to take this company to the next level and introduce a new area of Chicago to Porchlight.”
En Pointe … “there is something beautiful about just losing yourself in classical music through ballet en pointe.”
BRENDA DIDIER WEBSITE
PORCHLIGHT MUSIC THEATRE
BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL
October 6th through November 19th
The Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N Dearborn, Chicago
WEBSITE TICKETS PODCAST
LINCOLNSHIRE ACADEMY OF DANCE