For the love of theater, this mother and daughter share the bill

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PITTSFIELD — Lillian Colvin, 12, wakes up singing.

But her mother, Michelle Colvin, says, "I can't carry a tune to save my life."

Looking over to her daughter, who grew up mimicking the moves and melodies of Disney princesses and other musical icons, Michelle says, "Her passion and talent is uniquely her own."

But over the past four years, the two have developed a love and appreciation for musical theater together through their work at Berkshire Theatre Group. Lillian has been developing her skills and growing confidence on stage, while Michelle has become an active theater parent, working on costumes, coordinating carpools and recently joining the BTG education advisory committee led by Administrative Director of Education Allison Rachele Bayles.

Michelle said her family is among the dozens who are dedicated to supporting their children on stage, and "I'm really happy to be there."

The Eagle recently caught up with the daughter-mother duo during rehearsals for this weekend's production of "Disney's Aladdin Jr.," which runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They talked about what got them involved in theater, how they've benefited from their experiences, and why they're advocating for programming to expand to other parts of Berkshire County.

Lillian got her first role at age 8 playing "Shimmer the Penguin," in a BTG community production of "Mary Poppins."

Rehearsals back then were held in a community room at Laurin Publishing, since shows were running on the main stage.

"I remember there was everyone from adults to little children there. I didn't know what to do, so I sat in a chair. I was a little nervous at first," Lillian said.

Michelle said she was also nervous, since parents are asked to not linger during rehearsals. "But I was impressed by how well organized things were and how the prioritized safety," she said.

Lillian said within minutes, she was introduced to the rehearsal process by other actors and the director, and was making friends.

"I felt so happy. I knew I was supposed to be there," Lillian said.

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She said it was the older students especially who were quick to take the younger ones under their wings.

"The older girls were like our sisters during tech week, helping me get ready and making sure I was where I needed to be. It made me feel a bit relieved, and even though I was a penguin, the made me feel important in the show. I felt at ease," Lillian said.

"Even now, when she comes out of rehearsals, she's just beaming," Michelle said.

Lillian said the friends she made that first day continue to be her friends today.

"We've all really grown," she said, "and BTG's humbled me a bit."

She admitted she could be "a sassy little kid," but said she's learned to look out for everyone in her shows, helping younger kids as she was once helped, be it with lines or doing homework.

This weekend, Lillian will perform for her first time a lead role, as Princess Jasmine, in "Aladdin Jr."

"I think being a lead is more of a responsibility because you have to be someone people look up to," she said. "I think Jasmine is my favorite [Disney princess] because she's very headstrong and kind of reminds me of myself. She's a really cool role model for girls, too."

Michelle said she's found a whole new bond among theater parents in her role as a volunteer, whether they're cutting and sewing costumes or coordinating meals for the kids. She said it's also motivated her in her role as a principal of Hoosac Valley Elementary School to re-examine how theater arts can be used to help students in school.

"I think the confidence kids have through theater and the opportunities for public speaking — Lillian's spoken about BTG at a Berkshire United Way function and for CCTV programs — that's the core and the heart of creative expression," Michelle said.

BTG is currently doing a pilot education program with her third-grade students as well, which supports instruction in literacy and other socioemotional skills.

"BTG is all about taking positive risks. Here, you will be treated like you're part of a big family," Lillian said. "My generation and the next generation, we're ready to do acting and theater. It's a really exciting, fun time to be in it."


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