If you have children interested in theatre, please do yourself and your child a favor and steer as clear as you can from Riverside Youth Theatre. Their tagline touts “creating quality, family-friendly theatre …”, and while I can’t speak earnestly regarding their quality (though if this experience is indicative, it’s probably lacking), I can assure you that they are anything but “family-friendly”.
They recently cast for a Spring-time performance of the Sound of Music. A young girl was offered a part, she accepted, and her parents paid the $250 required for her to take part in the performance. She did not get the role she auditioned for, but this was her first time trying out for something like this and she was very excited to, in her own words, “learn and get better”. She attended the first rehearsal and was already asking extended family if they were going to come watch her on opening night.
That first rehearsal was on a Monday (12/9). On Tuesday afternoon (12/10), the girl’s mother and father received some unfortunate health news regarding their 6-month-old son. The news they received was not positive to say the least and it became apparent rather quickly that it would lead to numerous follow-up appointments, tests and unknowns for their son. That evening, while still trying to comprehend the information regarding their son, the decision was made to remove the young girl from the production. With the next week of appointments alone, the young girl’s ability to meet the rehearsal requirements would be put in jeopardy and it was determined that it wouldn’t be fair to the young girl or the production.
That same evening (12/10), an email was sent to the Artistic Director that indicated the issue (without going into explicit detail regarding the health issue) and requested that the young girl be removed from the production with no ramifications to her future with the group. Information on how to proceed was also requested. The email remained unanswered. It took two more days and two additional emails to elicit a response from the Artistic Director.
The third email elicited a short, curt response from the Artistic Director indicating that she would follow up later in the day (to give some credit here, it was indicated that she was currently visiting a sick mother-in-law in the hospital and would reply later). The tone of the response led to an additional email on the young girl’s behalf, which went into much further detail of the health of the young girl’s brother in hopes that it would help the Director to understand the severity of the situation and perhaps show some compassion.
This was met with another curt response, no acknowledgement or care for the family’s situation, and only a referral to the packet given out at auditions.
Another email was sent asking the Artistic Director to put herself in the family’s shoes and indicating that the unknowns regarding their son’s health would be putting the family in both financial and emotional strain. Understanding was requested, parent to parent.
This was the response received:
------ Original message------
From: Debbie Wolgemuth
Date: Fri, 12/13/2013 7:05 AM
To: zFamily [removed for privacy];
Subject:RE: Sound of Music
You have to understand where we are coming from after working with parents for over 30 years.
Basically, you wasted our time. You grilled me by e-mail after callback and asked lots of questions which I answered to help you make your decision in joining the cast or not. Then both of you asked more questions at the end of Monday's rehearsal. These are all red flags, that you were struggling with the part cast in, which we've experienced over the years. You could have dropped out from the cast on Monday night, no problem. You got cold feet and decided to not participate. We've the gambit of stories over the years of why people want to drop out, especially when their kids don't get the part they want, so that's why these clearly explained expectations were established.
Apparently you did not read the expectations contract signed or you would not have contacted me over and over again during the week after you got cold feet and didn't want to participate.
I did not appreciate the tone of your e-mails and telephone call either. Very rude. I will be blocking you from my e-mails, so please do not harass me again.
Your $50 Costume Deposit will be refunded by mail.
Your daughter will not considered for casting in any future Riverside Youth Theatre productions either.
Debbie Wolgemuth, Artistic Director
Riverside Youth Theatre
Creating quality, family-friendly theatre in the Inland Empire since 2000 for youth from 6-21 years.
Considering the fact that it was the health of a child that was in question, this is not the response expected from a “family-friendly” organization. A “family-friendly” organization would not ignore the misfortune of a sick child when presented with it. A “family-friendly” organization would not accuse the family of creating this misfortune to cover up “cold feet”. And, even if policies for refunds were rock solid, a “family-friendly” organization (one that deals with children no less), would acknowledge what the family is going through and offer some sort of compassion.
Obviously, this organization did none of this.
The email response from Ms. Wolgemuth does a decent job of showing that the vision for their organization posted on their website and in their tagline is only stated not practiced, but I have also posted the entire email exchange on my personal Facebook page for viewing should you like to read the full exchange and form an opinion for yourself. I would also like to clear up a few of the accusations made in the posted response:
1) The sole reason for this young girl being pulled from the production was because of her brother’s health. There was no stage fright, cold feet or unhappiness with the part. Those that have seen this little girl perform on stage can attest to the fact that cold feet do not exist to her. She is dedicated to “getting better” and was very excited for the opportunity. They did not drop out on Monday simply because they didn’t get the health news until Tuesday.
2) A phone call was left after the third email elicited little response. The tone may have been slightly strained, but if you refer to the emails on my Facebook page you’ll see that the problem with tone and rudeness actually lies with the accuser.
And then that last line of her email response. Am I the only one to see the irony in “family-friendly” when a young girl is blackballed from children’s theatre not because of her ability, her diva-ness or even a crazy stage mom, but because her brother’s health issues cropped up a day late for a refund?
The audition package from the organization clearly states no refunds past the first rehearsal. I’ll give them that. But it doesn’t state to expect a total lack of compassion from those the organization chooses to let represent it.
It was made clear that the young girl will not be considered for casting in any future Riverside Youth Theatre productions.
The young girl in question won’t be considering Riverside Youth Theatre as the outlet for any of her future performances either. This is most unfortunate for Riverside Youth Theatre because there will be many and they will be fantastic.
Oh, and I couldn’t help but notice that all of the meetings, rehearsals, etc. take place at a church. I’m sure they must have an extra copy of the Good Book lying around. Perhaps on your next rehearsal break it wouldn’t hurt Ms. Wolgemuth to take a few minutes to brush up on those verses pertaining to benevolence and respect for your neighbor? I imagine if you had done that previously, this matter would have been handled with grace and kindness rather than the insensitivity and carelessness that it was.
Creating quality, affordable musical theatre experiences in Riverside, California since 2000 for youth from 3-21 years. Riverside Youth Theatre focuses on providing a quality educational experience for their students who learn performing skills, scenic design, sound/lighting design and stage managing from participating in their musicals.