By REGINA BELT-DANIELS
November 27, 2023 at 8:02 pm CST
CRYSTAL LAKE – I don’t think I have ever met two such exuberant teachers as Rob Scharlow and Nick Hrutkay. Scharlow is the new director of education at the Raue Center School For The Arts, and Hrutkay is director of its upcoming world premiere of “The Disturbing Disappearance of St. Nicholas,” headed to the stage of the Raue Center For The Arts in Crystal Lake from Dec. 1 to 3.
Scharlow and Hrutkay met at New York’s Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center, where both were teachers. Scharlow had 17 years’ experience there, and has been friends with Hrutkay for nine. Both believe the arts not only inspire and unleash creativity, but also foster emotional connections, personal growth and confidence. Scharlow’s philosophy – “It’s not what you’re capable of, it’s what you’re capable of becoming” – is evident not only in his 35 years of performing throughout the area, including on the Raue stage, but in his RCSA teaching.
Hrutkay’s philosophy is “not to turn out pros, but better people” and “the ability to listen to others can be taken to any profession.” Both Scharlow and Hrutkay have a realistic and honest approach to arts education; as Scharlow says: “We’re the same basically.”
What’s also exciting is this production is a result of devised theater, or the process of collaboratively creating a new work without a pre-existing script. In this case, the collaborators are 12 RCSA students ranging from ages 7 to 16. Both Scharlow and Hrutkay admit it was an intense process; after starting with three pages of ideas, it took five days to pare down and write “The Disturbing Disappearance of St. Nicholas.”
Hrutkay “jumped in with prompts,” and later pieced the production together. Both Scharlow and Hrutkay were inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Letters From Father Christmas,” a collection of Tolkien’s letters written between 1920 and 1943 to his children. Scharlow was delighted that in the RCSA writing development, no one questioned the existence of Santa or the spirit of Christmas, and all worked diligently and had fun.
“The Disturbing Disappearance of St. Nicholas” will be fully staged in the round and along the lines of a studio black box theater. And thanks to the generosity of Crystal Lake’s Marvin’s Toy Store (Kate McConville told them to “take what you like”), toys will be arranged all around the perimeter of the set. Marketing also involved RCSA students: Caroline Lucas designed the elves T-shirt; Lauren Gassman designed the flyer that, when folded in half, cleverly shows an empty Santa chair; and the play’s poster was designed by Sophia Kuranda.
So, the premise: What would happen if Santa Claus abandoned the North Pole, and a group of elves discovered his famous red suit flung across his chair? “The Disturbing Disappearance of St. Nicholas” promises to be both poignant (there’ll be some “pulling of heartstrings,” according to Hrutkay) and humorous. All the collaborators were adamant that the audience should walk out not knowing for sure what happened – no predictable ending. There’s holiday music, dancing, movement and plenty of hope in dealing with real-life issues, and an exploration into what Santa means.
The RCSA will start new classes in January; the much beloved “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is scheduled as the spring show. Hrutkay will be headed to Pittsburgh after this production, but under Scharlow’s inspiration and confidence, the RCSA is sure to be a mainstay of the theater community.
• Regina Belt-Daniels is excited to welcome Rob Scharlow back to Illinois, having directed him in productions at the Woodstock Opera House and Raue Center For The Arts. Belt-Daniels, a retired special education teacher, can be found onstage, backstage, or writing theater reviews somewhere anytime.
WHAT: “The Disturbing Disappearance of St. Nicholas”
WHERE: Raue Center For The Arts, 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake
WHEN: 7 p.m. Dec. 1; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 2; 2 p.m. Dec. 3
COST: $25 for adults, $10 for students, $17.50 for RaueNOW members
INFORMATION: 815-356-9212, box firstname.lastname@example.org, www.rauecenter.org