While the arts are usually the last to be funded and the first to be cut in public schools, one Wilmette woman was honored Tuesday evening for keeping the thrill of the stage alive amongst students.
It was a night of nights for Wilmette’s District 39 Educational Foundation where over cocktails and conversation Carole Dibo was awarded the fourth annual Distinguished Citizen Award. Past recipients of the award have been Walter Reed and Roger and Gina Myerson.
When Highcrest Middle School opened in 1995 without a playground and very few books in its library, Dibo put her knowledge of acting to use in the Chicago suburb, and the Highcrest Variety Show was born.
"These kids, many of whom had never been on stage and many would never be again, they took a chance, they took a risk, then they took a bow and they felt the high of being applauded literally for their efforts," Dibo said, "There was no greater thrill than standing in the wings watching those kids soak in that kind of adoration and positive feedback.
As a testament to that value, the Highcrest Variety Show still takes place each year, Dibo said. Dibo has also ensured that the value of performance arts extends outside of schools in the community.
In 2006, with the Wilmette Theater in danger of becoming a furniture store, Dibo and her partner stepped in and saved the Wilmette institution. By 2008, she opened the Actors Training Center for 50 students. This year they have more than 215 actor/actress hopefuls participating.
"I got to tell you for me that's as good as it gets," Dibo said after describing an average week at the theater; a whirlwind of seniors, students, movies, cabaret shows, comedy, plays and popcorn.
But there is always more to be done, with the Wilmette Theater's next step being to move toward not-for-profit status, she added.
Guests were dressed to the nines at the $65 ticket event ($25 for students), the proceeds of which will go to future grants. Meanwhile organizers said more than 152 tickets had been sold and they anticipated a number of walk-ins.
Like all great performers Dibo had some butterflies in her stomach when she was at home thinking about delivering her speech, but when she took the podium her natural talent came right out.
After Dibo’s speech a group of students from her Actors Training Center performed two songs: Seasons of Love and Hapiness (is..).
Dibo leaned in and followed each line of the singers and tearfully reacted to their performance.
“You’re a good woman Carole Dibo,” her squad of performers chorused at the finale which was greeted with wild applause and you could see the thrill of the performance in the students' eyes -- and Dibo's.