Sophie Hurd is an impresario.

She runs a theater company. Writes the plays. Helps train the actors.

And, she is all of 19 years old.

What’s more, Sophie started this program for kids when she was just a kid herself, at fourteen, as a freshman at Evanston Township High School.

Now she’s a freshman at Northwestern.

Sophie Hurd.

Sophie is the founder and director of the Avalon Theatre Club, which is currently signing up participants for the upcoming season.

While Sophie loves theater, she is not looking to discover the next Robert DeNiro or Meryl Streep.

“We never make one kid the lead,” Sophie explains.

“That’s not what we’re about.”

What Avalon Theatre is about, and has been since Sophie and a friend began the program five years ago for students at Lincoln Elementary School, is to not only teach children how to act on stage, but also how to work with each other.

“Part of our mission,” Sophie says, “is for all of the roles to be equal.”

Sophie admits that her program has grown and evolved since she was a 9th grader at ETHS.

“We really didn’t know what we were doing when we started,” Sophie recalls.

The first play she and her friend put on with the Lincoln kids was “something I wrote in 7th grade.”

Since then, the plays and the staging have become more creative, more clever, and, as Sophie puts it, “more inclusive.”

It’s also moved from Lincoln to the Ridgeville Park District building, with performances at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center.

An Avalon performer playing The Pharaoh in “The Scarab Amulet.” Credit: Dawn Grdinic photo.

The free program hopes to attract youngsters of color, of all incomes, and, even though the Club is for third graders up through eighth, they’ve even included kids as young as seven.

“We haven’t ever turned anyone away,” she says.

From 15-20 kids at Lincoln, the Theatre Club now expects to have something like 50 children in fall and winter sessions.

Avalon’s philosophy of cooperation and no prima donnas was perfect for 13-year-old Griffin Brenner.

Griffin chose Avalon last year, and is coming back, because, he explains, of its “unique teaching style.”

“Every single part is important. Everybody collaborates and helps each other. They give everyone an equal role,” he says.

Griffin’s mom, Jackie Brenner, says Griffin fits right in.

“It’s not like he has to be on stage,” she says.

“He just loves being part of a community which makes something important happen.”

One particularly important thing for Griffin … being part of Avalon helped him recover, emotionally and socially, from being hit by car last fall.

Griffin’s fine now, but his activities were limited for awhile.

Jackie says the theater program “let him be normal and his full self again. There was no holding him back.”

Avalon, Griffin says, “was a place I could really feel accepted and have fun.”

Of course, it’s fun for Sophie as well, and the five other Northwestern and ETHS students who are fellow instructors.

Original plays have ranged from a saga about an “evil principal at a school,” to a takeoff on “Little Women,” to kids falling into books with the characters coming alive, called “The Fictionals.”

The older kids (middle schoolers) have input on the stories, and all of the instructors are pretty young themselves.

“A big thing,” Sophie says, “is that we’re entirely run by youth. I’m the oldest at 19.”

A 7th grader, who is a participant, also wants to become an intern to learn how to teach acting.

As for the name “Avalon,” Sophie says she “chose it out of the blue.”

But she later learned that in Celtic legend, avalon can mean apple tree.

“We’re an apple tree,” Sophie says.

“In every show, we see the kids grow.”

Griffin agrees.

As with an apple tree, theater takes some time to bear fruit.

While learning and rehearsing, Griffin says, “things add on little by little. You don’t even notice.”

But looking back after the performance, “after it’s all over, it’s wow!”

“We created the entire thing, and it’s awesome!”

To learn more about taking part in the Avalon Theatre Club, check their website. The next session starts at the end of this month, with groups for grades 3-5 and 6-8.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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