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The Paisan Chorus and others during Monday’s dress rehearsal at Maire Elementary School. photo by Renee Landuyt.

May 09, 2013
On a table in a room across the hall from the chaos of dress rehearsal, Sara Fischer Hodges sat giving an interview.

Moments later, a little boy walked in, "Hi, Mrs. Hodges," and gave her a big hug before heading across the hall for his costume.

"This is why I do it," Hodges said. "That is what it's all about. I swear."

Hodges, who said she found her passion in playwriting and working with children, is in her sixth year leading, directing and writing for Maire Elementary School's Enrichment Drama Club, a theater program she started for elementary-aged students. Her latest production, Cinderfella and the Dancing Shoes, a modern-day twist on the Cinderella story, starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 9, with a second and final performance set for Friday, May 10.

Set in New York City, the story follows 10-year-old Michael Russo, his hardworking mother, his sister, Gina, their cat, Bella, and three evil stepsiblings, Dominic, Nella and Joseph. Michael enters a dance contest, hoping to win prize money to support his mom, but must compete against his stepsiblings, who want the money for themselves. He soon discovers he has a Fairy Godfather, the Godfadda, and Con-Silly-Fairies, Luigi, Guido and Rosie, all who guide him toward becoming more self-confident and ultimately bring his family together.

The show, with a 42-person cast, also features rapping choruses, the Paisans, Motivational Speakers and dancing Gambinis. Cinderella and her evil stepmom and sisters narrate.

"Doing a theater, this is the only school in Grosse Pointe that has a theater program at all, and it's just incredibly enriching for the kids," Hodges said. "It's very confidence-building. Sometimes there's kids — it's a square peg and a round circle. Maybe they don't fit in, maybe they're not athletic. This gives them a chance to shine. It gives them a chance to build their confidence. It gives them a chance to work as a team."

And in the six years since starting the club, Hodges and crew of parent volunteers and friends, like Julie Schuetze, the backstage and volunteer coordinator whose children have been involved in some capacity five of six years, have continued to see such growth from students, the majority of who are experiencing acting and theater for the first time.

"We've just seen over the years the growth of the kids, and it's given them a lot of self-confidence and helped them go on to other things. Because some of them aren't natural actors and they're going out of their comfort zone a little bit," Schuetze said. "It's really great and I've enjoyed being part of it with her. We're friends, but our friendship has grown, and the kids, it's just amazing to see what the kids can do when they set their minds to it."

Cinderfella and the Dancing Shoes runs on consecutive nights, at 7p.m. Thursday, May 9, and Friday, May 10, both shows at Maire. Hodges wrote, directed and provided costumes for the production.

Seamstress Johnna Muldoon helped with costumes.

Schuetze coordinates backstage movements and volunteers; her daughter, Abbey Schuetze, an eighth grader at Pierce Middle School, is assistant director; and husband, Matt Schuetze, designed props and stage scenery.

Grammy Award-winning producer Steve "Dr. Ching" King collaborated with Hodges on the music, and Maire music teacher, Glen Hipple, choreographed dance numbers.

Admission is free, however, Hodges is accepting donations to benefit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Michigan in honor of Helena Petrouleas, a seventh grader at Pierce Middle School who, since performing in Hodge's first play six years ago, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.

"I love Helena," Hodges said. "I have a fondness for her, so I decided this year, on her behalf, that we would raise money for her organization."

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