by Lauren Speirs
Bringing families together builds community. Our family here at The Naples Players (TNP) wouldn’t be the same without the hours of time and dedication that our volunteers put into our community time and time again. In rare cases, our chosen TNP family and biological families crossover, in a beautiful relationship that strengthens both fronts.
Dede Brownlee has been volunteering with The Naples Players for 25 years, and has been a proud member and advocate ever since. “The very first show I saw [at TNP] was The Sound of Music that they were doing in 1997, and I thought, this is fantastic! I became friends with the woman who played Maria, and the next show we did together. It feels like a kismet that was the beginning of my time at The Naples Players, and now we’re at the last show in this theater.”
Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Brownlee has always been a fan of theatre. She grew up playing piano, singing, and playing in the orchestra. While often seen on stage in both musicals and plays, Dede’s TNP experience includes working backstage, participating on various committees, and ushering. She also acts on our Board of Directors as the VP of Membership. “To get to watch the evolution not only of this community and how we’re growing, but everyone’s personal evolution as performers and volunteers. I love all of those milestones, and I especially love all the unique experiences that we can now do together.”
Dede was thrilled when Luke, her sixth grade son, took an interest in performing and the arts. “We’re very, very similar. He just loves singing and dancing, and we are a family that loves karaoke. He’s just very musically inclined.”
Luke Brownlee is a seasoned KidzAct performer here at TNP. His first show was Nutcracker Goes Pop when he was four years old. “I remember he was so happy to be the leader of the mice!” recalls Dede. Since then, Luke has been involved in four other KidzAct productions, and now, his first adult production at the age of 12 starring as Kurt in The Sound of Music.
“My favorite part, probably, is getting exposed to new techniques and dance moves, meeting new people who help me, and making good friends,” says Luke. Dede recalls that, “Luke actually came to me saying that he really wants to audition, and I really hadn’t thought about it. And I was like, well, if you’re auditioning, then I’m going to audition for sure. I love the fact that he for the first time really instigated let’s do this. This time he was the one pushing me.”
Luke was ecstatic when he received the news that he was cast. Dede also remembers that day as a fond and proud memory: “The joy he was experiencing was indescribable. He was like, ‘I’m Kurt! I’m Kurt!’ It was perfect- it was the role he wanted. [This experience] is beyond anything I could have ever thought that would happen. And it’s because The Naples Players is what it is that we have this opportunity to do this as a family. It’s beyond words.”
“Our relationship has definitely strengthened by this rehearsal process,” says Luke. For Dede, who has spent 25 years volunteering with The Naples Players, she felt like the opportunity to do a show with her son, Luke, was the perfect chance to combine her passion for performing with strengthening her bond with her son. “I’m so grateful for this extra time with Luke. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it was a sacrifice not being able to tuck him in when he was smaller. Being able to do this with him is incredible. We get to pursue our passions and we get to do it together,” says Dede, “To work together as colleagues. That’s cool.”
Dede and Luke both look at the experience of sharing the stage together as an “emotional and unbelievable” experience. “Probably the biggest, most amazing memory was opening, but every show when we go to bow, I look back at my mom because she is behind me. And we just look at each other for like 30 seconds.” Dede recalled this same moment in near tears, “That first time he went to bow, I was just trying to hold it all together. It still makes me cry, I’m so proud.”
When asked about her advice for other parents looking to get their kids involved in performing, Dede said to take every opportunity that’s available to you. “Theatre grows more theatre. Our KidzAct program, I’ve never seen anything like it. He was hooked after one summer showcase, and it was 10 days. Take any opportunity to see what’s available to you, and just know you’re in great hands.”
All of us at The Naples Players are grateful to every single volunteer and we are humbled to be a part of your family. Building families like the Brownlees in turn builds our community stronger.
Thank you to Dede and Luke, and congratulations on your first production together of many here at The Naples Players.