Sixteen years ago, Karen Kilgore and her husband took their young daughters, Maddi and Lexi, to see the musical “Oliver!” at The Children’s Theatre of Mason. Wide-eyed and captivated by the magic of a live stage production, two new theatre lovers were born. The following year, the girls auditioned for and landed roles in “Beauty & the Beast.”
That’s when Kilgore started volunteering with the theatre and she hasn’t stopped since. Now she’s the president of the theatre, which changed its named to the ROYAL Theatre Company (Regional Ohio Youth Actors League) in 2016. Though the company launched in 2003 as a small community theatre, established by a group of local parents, it has grown substantially over the past 19 years. They now put on two musicals each year (one in the spring and one in the fall), with budgets per show usually running between $30,000 and $40,000.
The ROYAL Theatre Company brings in professional sets, backdrops, and special effects. Sometimes they build their own sets, but every production is top-notch. When they put on “Les Misérables,” for example, they purchased a set that had been used on Broadway. Director, lights and sound technician, choreographer, and stage manager are paid positions, Kilgore explains.
“People tell us all the time, ‘I had no idea the caliber of show I was about to see here,’” says Kilgore. “The talent in Mason is pretty intense.”
That’s why between 150 and 200 kids, ages 6 to 18, typically audition for 40 to 60 roles per musical.
“It’s a hard decision. It’s very competitive,” says Kilgore. “A lot of these kids go on to college to study theatre and singing, and perform at Kings Island, Cedar Point, or in New York City to get tours. The ROYAL Theatre is like a little jumpstart for them.”
They put on four shows in a weekend and usually sell out at least three of the four. That equates to selling 6,000 to 8,000 tickets in a season. Through the years, some of their most popular shows have included “The Little Mermaid,” “Les Misérables,” and “Cinderella,” which they are putting on again this spring (shows will run May 27, 28, and 29).
“We like to do family-oriented shows that everyone, old and young alike, can enjoy,” says Kilgore. They also perform shows from the Golden Age of music theatre like “The Music Man” and “The Sound of Music.”
Though 100% of their profits are funneled directly back into the ROYAL Theatre, they often donate a portion to a local charity. For instance, when a little girl from Mason named Sable Gibson passed away from cardiac arrest resulting from strep throat and influenza, The ROYAL Theatre did a show to sponsor the family’s organization, “Shine Like Sable.”
“We sold raffle baskets and had the family as our guests,” says Kilgore. “Our scene shop built a bench, which we presented to them. And we made a donation to their foundation. It was a very emotional night.”
In the past, they have collected items for foster children. With “Cinderella,” their tagline is “It’s all about the shoes.”
“We’re hoping to collect tennis shoes or do something for kids to give back to the community,” says Kilgore.
Everyone is excited to bring “Cinderella” to the stage, especially since they haven’t put on a show in two years due to the pandemic. Last year, they did host a fundraiser called ROYAL Night on Broadway that featured Kayla Davion, who plays the lead role in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” on Broadway.
In addition to their musicals, the ROYAL Theatre puts on one to three week-long camps each quarter as well as two to four camps every summer.
“While actors get many more noes in this field than they do yeses, their growth comes from how they handle the noes,” says Kilgore. “Theatre is a lesson at an early age about how to cope with things that happen in life.”
Theatre is also great for those who struggle to find belonging in the world.
“Theatre is accepting of everyone and brings all sorts of people together from different religions, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds,” says Kilgore. “Everyone works together to make the show successful.”
She acknowledges that life has been tough for children lately, but that’s precisely why the arts are so vital.
“Our goal is to be a safe zone for the kids,” says Kilgore. “A place for them to grow and show what they can do.”
Considering signing up your child for a theatre camp? Want to become a ROYAL Theatre sponsor? Visit royaltheatrecompany.com or call 513-398-0116.