Two years ago, as Ryan Krueger lay in a hospital recovering from multiple surgeries to repair his kidney, his nurse asked him if he would like to get out of bed for a special performance. First Stage Children's Theater would be staging Frog and Toad in the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin auditorium. Ryan vividly remembers what that day was like. "I was really sick. I'd been in the hospital for a long time and it was depressing. I felt gloomy. But the day that First Stage came was really uplifting. It was really cool to get out of my hospital room and see a play."
Today, Ryan is a healthy high school junior who also happens to be a member of the cast of First Stage's ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. Recently, he traveled back to Children's Hospital, not as a patient, but as a performer to act in a shortened version of ALEXANDER in front of an audience of pediatric patients, their caregivers, and their parents. When asked how it felt to be on the other side of the stage, Ryan enthusiastically replied that he never would have guessed two years ago that someday he would come back as a performer. He felt that he knew very well how much the afternoon production meant to this special audience.
As Ryan talked about his memories of being a patient, two other young performers in the ALEXANDER cast remarked that they too had spent some nights at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Mary McIlheran and Peter deGuzman agreed with Ryan that the opportunity to perform at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin carried great meaning for them, and represented a chance to give back to an organization that has helped them.
In fact, not a single actor on stage could hide that this audience was special. Looking out into a room spiked with iv stands, actress Melinda Fundstein, playing Alexander's mom, grew teary singing lyrics that took on new meaning in a hospital auditorium: "I wish you a talent for living… a strong roof above you, a strong self inside you… the courage to go where I know you must go… .”
While many of these children are profoundly ill, their troubles seemed to ease as the performance progressed. Parker, a five-year-old girl who suffers from cystic fibrosis, sat mesmerized, even as her parents and nurse continually checked her monitors. At the close of the show, seven-year-old Christian remarked, "I've read ALEXANDER a lot. I'm like him. I've had temper tantrums. I kick the ground."
As children prepared to return to their hospital rooms, they waved good-bye to the actors. And everyone, patients and performers, felt healed.
As part of a long-term partnership between First Stage Children's Theater and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, this performance was held on April 27 for those young patients who are able to attend in person; it was also broadcast throughout all patient rooms within the hospital via closed-circuit for those who could not attend. First Stage is very grateful for the support of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.