Seated at the pews of the Old South Church, parents readied their cameras. A group of young performers hugged each other tightly before walking down the aisles for one last annual concert.
For the last several months, these kids have watched their beloved Boston Children's Theatre crumble under the weight of allegations against the organization's former artistic leader. It billed itself as the oldest children's theater in the nation, and had served more than a million kids through workshops and classes over the years. Despite the discord and tumult, the former BCT students — some of whom had been with the theater for years — raised their voices in harmony Sunday evening.
In a span of three weeks and three Sunday rehearsals, this tight-knit young show choir learned an hour-long repertoire of songs. The members' parents organized to fund an accompanist on piano and the conductor.
“It was so amazing,” said Lillian Kuklewicz, 11, a sixth grader and formerly a member of the youngest group, the youth show choir. “It's been so hard. And I think just getting to sing was such an amazing opportunity. And it was so nice to see everyone … and make music together.”
She said the former group's members have helped each other through the last month.
The Boston Children's Theatre, founded in 1951, began unraveling at the end of October following the resignation of former executive artistic director, Burgess Clark. His resignation was followed by a slew of allegations of inappropriate behavior against him by former BCT students.
The BCT announced it was filing for bankruptcy and canceling all of its programming in a letter to parents on Nov. 27. According to Jim Solomon, the interim president of the BCT's board of directors, the organization had learned of severe financial woes in the couple of weeks before announcing bankruptcy. "Out of respect for the process, I will refrain from any subjective or objective remarks... It appears that financial mismanagement is apparent. While we have no specific indication of fraud, it will be investigated," Solomon told WBUR in November.
There's no longer any information on the BCT website. All that remains is an image of Snoopy and Woodstock on a dog house and the words: "All classes are cancelled until further notice. No new classes or productions are being offered at this time. Thank you!"
Sunday's performance was originally slated as a BCT production, but parents saved it from cancellation by footing the bill and divorcing it from BCT.
Other productions weren't salvageable. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was canceled in November after it had already been cast. The show choir’s January trip to Disney World was also canceled. But it was the loss of friends, as students left the program, that hit the group the hardest.
“It's been a mess,” Kuklewicz said at the concert on Sunday. “I don't think any of us could have done it without each other."
Singing is what helped Eve Gujral, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, come out of her shell. After this performance, she plans to keep singing but isn't sure what group she'll join.
“I feel somewhat betrayed by adults that I trusted, not that it was all of them," Gujral said. "And it's not the same. A lot of my friends are gone. A lot of my favorite adults in BCT are gone. I don't think it's the same group without them.”
Parents covered the cost to hire conductor Daniel Ryan to step in and work with the show choir for its last show. The Old South Church decided to waive the rental fees to give the kids one final hurrah.
The children called the evening, “The Snow Must Go On!” and they started practicing.
"That first rehearsal was very confusing," Ryan said. "I didn't know them. They didn't know me. We had to start from scratch and say, 'OK, here's the situation and here's how we're going to build the program, and this is the kind of message that we're gonna send.' "
Some parents continue to rally, gathering at the homes of different families and strategizing about how to finance the choir and possibly keep it going.
"Mostly, I think it's a tragedy," said Emily Klineman, whose daughter Maddie has sung with the choir for two years. "The dissolution of this organization leaves a hole in the city of Boston ... I think that the loss of this organization, if it can't come back from the ashes, is really sad… It's been my daughter's home for the past two years. It's the place on this earth where she has been happiest."
That was apparent Sunday. The mood in the sanctuary went from somber to celebratory, if a bit nostalgic. And at times, it was hopeful. The songs spoke of messages of resilience and joy, such as in the lyrics of "Once-A-Year Day."
Oh well it happens once a year
And this is that once-a-year day
Everyone's entitled to be wild,
Be a child, be a goof, raise the roof
Once a year!
“I text these people before I would text anyone else. I talk to these people before I talk to anyone else," said Maddie Klineman, 12. "I think of these people when I think of the people that I love. And I just really want us to be able to stay together so that I can stay with the people that I love.”
The last song of the performance was from the musical "Godspell." It’s called “Beautiful City.” Sophomore Victoria Rivard, 16, led the full choir.
Out of the ruins and rubble,
Out of the smoke,
Out of our night of struggle
Can we see a ray of hope?
One pale thin ray reaching for the day...
We can build a beautiful city.
Yes, we can (Yes, we can)
We can build a beautiful city.
Not a city of angels,
But we can build a city of man.
We may not reach the ending,
But we can start.
Slowly but surely mending,
Brick by brick,
Heart by heart.
Now, maybe now,
We start learning how.
We can build a beautiful city.
“It’s losing a home, losing all of these opportunities even to the point where it's like, what have I lost when it comes to college?" Rivard said. "It was like a promise, something you were looking forward to and then it just disappeared, like that.”
Still, the song was healing, Rivard said. It helped her believe she could start again.
Correction: The lyrics included in the original version of this story were from an older version of the song, "Beautiful City" from the musical "Godspell." They have been updated to reflect the version that students performed at the concert on Sunday.
This segment aired on December 17, 2019.
- Boston Children's Theatre Files For Bankruptcy And Cancels Productions
- Boston Children's Theatre Parents React To Allegations Against Former Artistic Director
- Boston Children's Theatre And Executive Director Part Ways Amid Investigation Into Artistic Director
- Boston Children's Theatre Hires Law Firm To Investigate Claims Of Inappropriate Behavior By Former Artistic Director