This is a big year for one of the area’s most iconic children’s theater groups, and not just because it’s the 30th anniversary of the Willow Glen Children’s Theatre. It’s also because this is the first year that WGCT’s holiday performances—which run Friday, Dec. 14 through Sunday, Dec. 16—won’t be overseen by founding director Gavin Coffing, who started the organization three decades ago and wrote an original play for each season.
This season, that responsibility fell to the replacement Coffing handpicked, Jordan Collier. The 28-year-old Collier has been involved with WGCT for almost 20 years, and a staff member for 13 years. She still remembers her very first day at WGCT, when she was 9 years old.
“My mom just kind of signed me up,” says Collier. “That first day I made a little friend, and I just loved it. My first play, I had two lines. The whole environment was so much fun.”
One of the things that makes WGCT unusual is that all of the kids who sign up for a season of WGCT get lines in the play. In fact, the lines are sort of written for them, as the group’s director observes the season’s participants from the very first Saturday morning meeting, over the course of a few weeks. The weekly gatherings start out with improv and other acting games for the kids, who generally range from age 7 through older teens. As the director begins to write the play, parts are handed out and rehearsals begin, culminating in the weekend of performances. The whole process takes just over two months, and allows the kids to see the whole process of production.
This year, the task of writing the play has fallen to Collier. “It’s definitely a little intimidating,” she admits. “But I’m really very honored that Gavin trusted me to continue this program that he put his blood, sweat and tears into. I’m just trying to honor what he’s created, because I think it’s important. We really want to make every participant feel like they have their time to shine.”
Collier’s first play is called Here, There, Everywhere, and follows two friends as they investigate the disappearance of a wealthy, eccentric old man from their neighborhood. Various clues lead them to encounter a number of characters over the course of the story.
“I do love mysteries. I always have,” she admits. And despite the many challenges she’s run into, she also loves working with the more than two dozen kids who are involved this season. She’s not surprised to see them bonding, as she did with the kids she first performed with—many of whom are her fellow SGCT staff members now, and some of whom now have nieces and nephews who are currently in the program.
“It’s always been such a close group,” she says.