FDU freshman Kathryn McManus brings musical theater by kids, for kids to Madison, NJ

ozAbove: The entire cast of the August 2016 production of “The Wizard of OZ YPE.” (Photos courtesy of Kathryn McManus)


By Madinah Muhammad

Fairleigh Dickinson University freshman Kathryn McManus, from Madison, N.J., knew at age nine that she wanted a career in musical theater.

At just 14, McManus became interested in experiencing different aspects of theater, so with a group of friends she wrote, produced and directed her first show, “Laurel’s Gift.” This pivotal moment sparked McManus’s desire to develop The Spotlight Kids Company — a theater company by kids, for kids. “I wanted to create awesome experiences for other kids, where I could share the excitement and joy I feel when performing on stage,” says McManus.  

With support from her entire family, The Spotlight Kids Company launched in May 2012. “My father is an engineer, so he helps me build sets, my mom helps with whatever else I need and my sister also pitches in. It is truly a family affair,” says McManus.


Above left: Kathryn McManus. Above right: New Jersey premiere of “The Christmas Doll,” in December 2014.

Productions include historical musicals with children from the third-to-eleventh grades who dance, sing and act. “The plays really come to life because the actors wear period costumes that represent a particular moment in time,” she says.

For the production of “Doll 8,” a show about friendship, family and fellowship, The Spotlight Kids Company employed a more collaborative approach. While traditional theater companies will have a director who provides the script and instructions for the actors, McManus does things differently. “For each production, cast members write the script as a team and select their characters. This allows younger kids to gain experience in other areas of theater like playwriting, choreography, singing and acting,” says McManus.


Above: The Spotlight Kids Company presents “Shirley Temple Storybook,” in summer 2014.

The Spotlight Kids Company has produced eight shows, two cabarets, two workshops and one summer of dance classes. They use different venues in Madison, N.J., to perform shows, including Grace Church, Madison Ambulance Corps and the Madison Community House — with sold-out shows from word-of-mouth from students, parents, local businesses and the company’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

As a theater arts major with a concentration in directing, McManus has taken courses on the Florham Campus that have positively contributed to the growth of her company. “Taking Dance I changed how I teach kids choreography and Stage Management has helped me to be better prepared as a director of a production with young kids,” says McManus.

In the future, she hopes to grow the theater company. “I want to include all kids from around N.J. who want to be involved in any aspect of a show. It is a life-changing experience where you learn a lot about yourself and about other people you work with through the process of creating and producing a show.”