Let me begin by saying that I am honored to have been asked to be the first featured “spotlight” for the acting school. It is most certainly true that the children’s Spotlight Acting School will always have a special place in my heart. When I graduated from Madison Southern High School in 2006, I was honored and excited to have been asked by Mrs. Kathie J. R. Bettler to join in her vision for a children’s acting school–one that had a sole purpose of giving the children of our community the chance to perform. From the very beginning, it was never about fancy sets, beautiful costumes, cool lighting, or even bringing in revenue. It was about the kids. Period. That is why Kathie’s legacy still lives on to this day and continues to help children foster their own senses of self during crucial developmental years. It was not uncommon for kids to come to us shy and unsure of themselves only to become the bright, shining stars taking center stage in our shows. It was truly amazing and rewarding to bear witness to such transformations over and over again.
After high school, I attended Eastern Kentucky University where I earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology and a minor in chemistry. I served as the assistant director/choreographer for the acting school throughout my entire four years at EKU. Showing up on Saturday mornings to rehearsal will always be some of the very best memories of my life. No matter how stressful things became with school, I knew I could always count on Kathie and the kids to breathe life back into me. Rehearsals were always so fun, and, to both me and Kathie, it was truly rewarding to see such growth taking place right before our eyes.
Working with Kathie and the acting school, it never ceased to amaze me how talented our youth truly are. Every single person in our shows, whether 4 or 16 years old, always brought something unique and special to the stage. While I loved all of the shows we directed, I definitely have some that will always stand out in my mind. Musicals were by far always my favorite, and it was no secret that Kathie and I were (and still are) huge Disney fans. I especially loved helping with The Aristocats, Peter Pan, Mulan, and Aladdin. I even had the honor of serving as director of The Jungle Book, and it was definitely one of my best memories of the acting school. The fact that Kathie trusted me enough to essentially “hand over” a project to me meant the world. I loved every second of it. Even after working with the acting school for so long, I never truly realized or understood just how much responsibility one assumed or how much work it really took to direct a show–Kathie always made it seem so effortless, and the magic she worked was always apparent on the stage with our young actors. She pulled the very best out of everyone, and I am no exception.
Some of my other favorite shows were the The Music Man, Cats, and Honk!. If you were involved with any of these shows, whether as an actor or as an audience member, I am sure you would agree that these shows stood out among the rest. The Music Man already provided a wonderful script and score, but those things, paired with some of the very best young actors I have ever encountered, made for a magically memorable show. I especially loved the barbershop quartet that featured Kathie’s husband, Alan, and some of his best friends. And, though Kathie always said she was meant to direct and not act, Kathie, too, took to the stage for an unforgettable performance along with both Chad and Letha Hembree.
Cats was definitely one of the biggest projects we ever took on at the school. We paired up Laura’s School of Dance, and we had actors and dancers from all ages taking the stage. One of Kathie’s very best friends, Jim Morton, played Gus the Theatre Cat and was truly outstanding in his portrayal. At the time, he was the director of EKU’s theatre department, and I was so thankful that our performers had the chance to work with him as he is such a seasoned performer. I, myself, especially loved playing Magical Mister Mistoffelees even though I fractured my foot during dress rehearsal and had to rearrange my entire solo. Ha! Though, I would have to say my favorite number of Cats was by far “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer” which I choreographed for Bridget and Sarah Thesing who played those characters, respectively. They were always some of my favorite actors to work with as they were always so respectful, so caring, and took direction so very well.
It is no mystery that dance has always been my passion. While I loved helping block scenes, I always loved choreographing the showstoppers the most. Honk! was definitely one of my favorite shows for choreography. I loved working with Sarah Bucknam and Matthew Nassida who played Ida and Ugly, respectively. Choreographing “Hold Your Head Up High” was so much fun as they always committed 100%. Then, of course, there was “Warts and All” that featured the entire cast and I LOVED that piece! I also loved the tango-inspired piece that I choreographed for Katherine Thesing and Erik Seaman who played Queenie and the Cat, respectively, in the number “Together.” Erik was actually my dance partner in EKU’s Dance Theatre company, and I was so happy that Katherine got the chance to work with him as he is wonderful and so talented.
It was in December of my senior year at EKU that I found out I was accepted into dental school at both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. While I was thrilled about my acceptance, I must admit that a certain sadness came with the news–for I knew I would no longer be able to continue full-time with acting school. Alongside with my parents, Kathie was always my number one fan. She never doubted me, and continually encouraged me to live the life I wanted and to pursue my dreams. She always did that for everyone. She knew and understood that I would have to devote all of my energy to my studies, but we both had hope that I would somehow find my way back to the acting school and take part in some capacity.
I finally graduated as a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) from the College of Dentistry at the University of Kentucky in May 2014. I am now serving as a general dentist at the White House Clinic in Berea. Kathie supported me all the way whether it was through episodic phone calls just to see how my day went, or through our regular lunches at Olive Garden to catch up. I am so thankful for the continual encouragement she always gave, and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her. She was truly an inspirational woman that touched the lives of all that had the honor of knowing her. I am certain Jeffrey Richardson would most certainly agree with me. He and I were both extremely close with Kathie, and came to know her so well over the years. I know I speak for him as well when I say that we were both lucky and blessed.
In high school, Kathie had been my advisor, my French teacher, my drama teacher, my director, and most importantly, my friend. She was, and is, family. I will always be thankful for the opportunities she provided me and other high school students. Playing Belle in Madison Southern’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast will always be my best memory of high school. Given that Belle has always been my favorite Disney princess, this is not surprising! It really was a childhood dream come true. And, let’s not forget how much fun I had playing Ado Annie in the production of Oklahoma! That was actually the very first production to hit the stage when the auditorium first opened at Madison Southern. It was such a wonderful show to open with and it was so much fun!
I most certainly loved working with Kathie at the acting school as this truly was her passion, and she put her all into it. Something I always admired about Kathie was her utter selflessness–in everything she did, and in everything she gave, she never once sought recognition. A memory that I will always treasure is that of her standing backstage on stage left, clapping with such pride and joy as our young actors took their final bows at all of our shows. On more than one such occasion, she and I both became misty-eyed at such an awe-inspiring sight.
I am so thankful that Letha, Chad, Sarah, and Brandi have taken on the responsibility of continuing with the acting school. They certainly had big shoes to fill, and from what I can tell, they are doing a wonderful job. While I mentioned a few actors in this spotlight update, I enjoyed working with every single child and young actor. In the words of Kathie, I would like to say thank you to all of the parents for “sharing their children with us at the acting school.” May the acting school, and more importantly, its young actors, always honor its founder–a remarkable, one-of-a-kind woman who cared for others’ children as if they were her very own. In every single child, parent, choreographer, and volunteer that was ever a part of the acting school, and in every child that has yet to become involved with the acting school, Kathie’s legacy will live on. I know I speak for everyone when I say, thank you, Kathie, for always believing in us and giving us such wonderful opportunities in our small community. And, personally, I thank you for always being such a foundational role model, friend, and second mother to me. We all love you, Kathie J.R. Bettler.
Wishing you all the best,