Article originally appears on Times Record News
When the cast of Backdoor Theatre’s “School of Rock” took the stage June 22, the young, musically talented actors perhaps hoped the experience would change someone’s life.
Little did they know, that night would change their lives.
Sitting front and center, a few rows back from the stage, Nolan Lee was a bundle of excitement.
'He wants to see more. He wants to see it all'
The 13-year-old McNiel Middle School special needs student, dressed in a “School of Rock” costume his mother, Amy, made him for Halloween, knew the lyrics to every song. He knew the dialogue.
He hears the music and the dialogue with the aid of a bone conduction hearing implant.
The red bandanna Nolan wears around his neck, to catch the occasional moisture gathered around his mouth, accentuates his impressive costume and gives him a super hero aura.
Born at 29 weeks, Nolan was a “micro-premie,” one who only weighed 1 pound, 14 ounces. He measured the size of a 24-week baby.
“That’s the weight of seven sticks of butter,” his mom said.
Amy, the doctors thought, caught a cold at about 20 weeks, and Nolan contracted a rare virus, CMV, diagnosed at three days old.
A dwindling amount of amniotic fluid prompted early delivery.
Nolan, who has an older sister attending Rider High School, knows every aspect of the movie and – since the story hit the Broadway stage – the play.
“He started watching the movie when he was about 4 or 5,” said Amy, “and then the Broadway show on YouTube. He gets frustrated with the clips because they’re not the whole show. He wants to see more. He wants to see it all.”
Cast members bring fan up on stage
So, of course, Nolan would see the theatre’s 2018 Summer Youth Musical.
His all-in enthusiasm that night captured the attention of director Charlotte Dameron, prompting her to talk to Nolan’s family during intermission. His love of the musical inspired her to go backstage and tell the young cast, middle- and high-school aged, of a special fan they had in the audience.
She asked them to take extra care, to possibly make eye contact with him, if they saw an opportunity, make him feel a part of the show.
Dameron, whose sons Michael and Gabriel star in the local production, had no idea just how much a part of the show they’d make Nolan.
During the bows and encore, a cast member came into Nolan’s row, made her way to his seat and said, “Would you like to come up on stage with us?”
Once Nolan mounted the stage, the young cast members took Dameron’s instructions lightyears beyond what she could have expected.
Steven Kintner, a trained musician who has been in a number of shows at Backdoor and The Wichita Theatre, took his electric guitar from his shoulders and draped it across Nolan.
Even with the microphone pack unplugged, Nolan jammed on the strings. The cast gathered around and sang to Nolan, “You’re in the Band.”
The house, collectively, took in a sob.
Audience members embraced the cast after the show, praising them for what a remarkable gesture they had just made, what a difference they had made in that boy’s life.
“No,” Kintner said. “He changed our lives.”
Kintner, who stars as Zack Mooneyham, comprised a plan to show Nolan what a tremendous impact he’d made on their lives.
He dusted off an older electric guitar he had lying around, enlisted the help of Hayley’s Music to refurbish the instrument and planned a big surprise for Nolan.
On Friday, hours before their next show, the cast gathered at Backdoor, waiting to give Nolan what he thought would be a tour backstage.
In costume and in character, they welcomed him back on stage, gave him a guitar and unleashed his excitement. Nolan strummed through two songs, beaming.
The song ended. Instead of taking the guitar from Nolan’s neck, Aiden Potter, who plays Dewey (Jack Black in the movie version), turned to their young friend and said, “That guitar is yours.”
“What?!” Nolan exclaimed.
“Look at that,” Amy said, “everybody signed it. That’s for you.”
Kintner recognized the extraordinary gesture for its magnitude, but he insisted he was the one changed.
“When I do theater, I kind of try to inspire, to make a difference,” he said. “It’s kind of why we do what we do. This was different. We wanted to do something for him, to make his day. He’s a special, sweet kid.”
Dameron would say the same of her cast, whose 37 talented members and a dozen or so crew will end their summer “School of Rock” run with one show Friday and two shows on Saturday, June 30.
“What they did was show me that this generation of kids are not as entitled, as spoiled as some would try to tell you,” said Dameron, who is, serendipitously, the executive director of the Auditory Implant Initiative.
“These kids are so willing to give back to those who touch their lives. It means so much to me to see them reach out to touch those who affect them.”