Alle Wallace, a rising sophomore, says she loves theater because it never gets boring. "You're never really the same character twice," she says. "You can play the character but still be yourself and make it your own."
For Trevor Pearson, a rising Ward Melville senior who recently co-hosted the Alumni Summer Recall Show, theater arts is "a good way to get together with people. It's a way to feel like you're part of something."
And for Jessica Spitz, a 2010 Ward Melville graduate, it's "a way to burst out of yourself while still being yourself."
All three are part of Productions Over the Rainbow (POTR), a local non-profit theater group that has been bringing kids and teens together and turning them into performers for eight years now.
POTR is the brainchild of Bob DePersio, who has been teaching music and theater arts at for 15 years. DePersio studied at Hofstra University and Stony Brook University, performing in numerous shows and working with nearly every well-known theater organization across Long Island.
Last week, 55 kids came together to perform Disney's Little Mermaid Jr. And 52 performers will take the stage Thursday through Saturday to perform the musical Anything Goes. DePersio directs, working with choreographer Alyse Arpino and musical director Carl Hottinger. Spitz has graduated from her role as a performer to be assistant director and stage manager.
DePersio said POTR imparts lessons of respect, teamwork, discipline, and gratitude.
"I kind of look at us like the farms of the major leagues," he said. "When they go to other theaters, I like people in other theaters to know 'Wow, they learned at POTR.' They learned what a rehearsal schedule is, they learned how to behave themselves. That to me is a huge goal, to get these kids at a point where they go to Theater Three or Gateway or move on to the city ... I want people to see they're really learning good things at POTR."
Longtime members say they've learned exactly that; that POTR is a welcoming place where everyone respects each other in a positive learning environment – an important place to have when you're growing up.
"Everyone's welcome," Pearson said. "That's the big thing."
Spitz added, "This is not the place for attitudes, especially at the high school age."
Wallace said POTR teaches humility. "Basically, everyone has their own talent. The goal is to find what it is and how to showcase it," she said. "Everybody gets a chance."
On the horizon for POTR: acquiring its own production space, which is going to take some serious time and fundraising, DePersio said. There's a storage space in Holbrook, a rehearsal space in Setauket, and a stage to perform on wherever they can find one.
"The toughest thing we're facing right now is we're kind of nomadic, going from different rehearsal spaces and performance spaces," he said. "We're ready to take that next leap."
Catch POTR's production of Anything Goes between Thursday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Port Jefferson Station. Tickets are $18 at the door.