West Jordan nonprofit youth theatre comes to South Valley

Published February 28, 2013 12:22 pm

Director wants to help children find their voice, self-confidence.
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West Jordan • Frantic commands from the stage director are drowned out as microphone feedback echoes off the walls in the hollow multi-purpose room.

A cast of 50 children rush to prepare for its first show "Metaphasia," a retelling of "12 Dancing Princesses," with volunteers of all ages. Hours before South Valley Youth Theater's first show, chattering children overpower the whirring sound of two sewing machines set up on a folding table as volunteers finish up the final stitches on costumes. It's a grassroots youth theater company effort when the director's mom doubles as the costume seamstress.

"Metaphasia" is a whimsical show director Jessie Ibrahim and music director Rebecca Rowley picked because of the light-hearted premise combining a mix of "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Pinocchio."

The seed for creating a new theatre company was planted in 2010, when West Jordan paid $274,000 to raze a beloved community theatre venue, the Sugar Factory Playhouse. It was deemed unsafe for the public and condemned after several seismic and structural concerns arose, according to Kim Wells, spokeswoman for West Jordan. In July, Viridian Event Center, part of the Salt Lake County Library system, became a new home for art performances, though the space is far from ideal with a multi-purpose room featuring a roughly 25 foot by 10 foot roll-away stage.

In 2012, Ibrahim left directing at the West Jordan Youth Theatre, which she felt was limiting her goals, and created the South Valley Youth Theater. Ibrahim put $4,000 of her own money into the nonprofit organization to secure a venue for the play. West Jordan Mayor Melissa Johnson founded the West Jordan Youth Theatre seven years ago and said the city doesn't have an exclusive venue for plays, but is working on it.

"The arts are important, but not the city's top priority," she said, adding the city has no "ill will" against Ibrahim.

A desire to help children feel included is why Ibrahim began directing theater. Her passion for giving children a sense of purpose began at the age of 12. Bullied as a child, Ibrahim found solace in a community theater program. Others were accepting of who she was and that gave her a sense of belonging.

"I found myself in such a bad situation and hurting so much inside," she said of her life before acting.

She knew at that point what she wanted to do when she was older — make a place for others to find themselves.

The goal wasn't about money, but helping children find a future, "because that is where I found my future," she said.

As a director, she also focuses on those with disabilities including autism or at-risk youth to give them an equal chance at playing a role and learning to become better.

"You don't need a lot of money to help kids grow, you just need people who care about them and that's what we care about — these kids," Rowley said.

As a result of their efforts, another generation of youth are now finding themselves.

South Jordan resident Nazih Al-Tigar, 16, says the impact on his self-esteem because of theater has been life-changing. Now he has a lead role in the play.

"I came from somebody who didn't even walk in the hall with their head up to now walking around smiling and being myself," Al-Tigar said.

There were enough children to dual-cast the show. Half of the cast are those who followed Ibrahim from WJYT just to be directed by her again, the rest gathered by word of mouth. Being in Ibrahim's plays offers a chance to learn professional tasks, the children say.

"It makes you feel like 'Wow I can actually do something with my talents,'" said Taylorsville resident Cheyenne Porter, 16, who is the choreographer for the production.

Ibrahim likes to have children learn as many of the production positions as feasible for a show, said Porter, who says Ibrahim is like a second mom to her. Some children take care of lighting the stage, running the sound and polishing up the cast with makeup. The learning doesn't end there as each child has a goal of selling 20 tickets to friends or family.

"It's not her show, it's your show," Porter said. "She's not doing it for her name, she is doing it so you can have that sense of accomplishment."

Porter and Al-Tigar said Ibrahim puts an endless amount of time into the productions. Whenever they call her, she is either in the middle of sewing, painting or planning something for the next show, Al-Tigar said.

"It's always about the play."

cimaron@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CimCity