Cheryl Graves of Rehoboth Beach made an early decision in her family life to be a stay-at-home mother for Tyler, now 23, and Hunter, now 20. She has no regrets.
Tyler will graduate from the University of Delaware in December and wants to work with special needs children like Jerry, a severely handicapped child he befriended until Jerry died. “Tyler has always been compassionate with children and the elderly,” said his mother. “Who knows? Maybe he will wind up in the Peace Corps! My husband [Henley Graves, a Superior Court judge in Sussex County] and I just want him to be happy.”
Hunter, who once thought playing baseball was his primary interest, is now a sophomore at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City studying drama and music.
It all started when Cheryl took Hunter to a Possum Point Players audition in Georgetown for their Christmas show when he was 9 years old. “He wouldn’t do it unless I did it, too,” she said with a laugh. “We both got parts!” As it turned out, this was the beginning of theatrical interests for both of them.
Ten years ago, the Clear Space Theatre Company came on the scene in Rehoboth Beach and Hunter attended classes there, also auditioning for “Scrooge!” their Christmas Show. He won the part of Peter, Tiny Tim’s brother. And, much to her surprise, Cheryl again got a part, too, the next year.
“By this time, when it looked like acting and music would be a definite interest for Hunter, I took the step of offering to help Clear Space as a volunteer,” Cheryl said. ”I joined their board of directors, eventually becoming chairman of the fundraising committee.”
“Cheryl’s growth has been remarkable,” said Doug Yetter, founder and artistic director of the Clear Space Theatre Company. “She has blossomed into a secure, agile performer, equally at ease with comedy or drama, always willing to take a chance with whatever piece of direction I throw at her.”
“She is the living embodiment of our mission at Clear Space. Ten years ago, she was a nervous tyro [beginner in early learning stage]. Now, she has become a graceful, professional actress who handles leading roles with aplomb.”
The Rehoboth Beach-Lewes area has proven to have other resource people who support and strengthen young performers like Hunter and their families. For example, CHHS theater instructor Martha Pfeiffer recognized Hunter’s gifts and introduced him to the world of Shakespeare, something that enriches and strengthens him as he studies and performs at Juilliard.
Another source of hometown support is Alex Helsabeck, director of music for All Saints’ Episcopal Parish, made up of All Saints’ Church in Rehoboth Beach and St. George’s Chapel in Harbeson. He has become a local voice coach for Hunter. Cheryl sings in his All Saints’ choir.
In 2012, Hunter applied to Julliard. “They take 14 out of 4,000 applications each year,” said Cheryl. Hunter is the first student from Delaware to be accepted in the school's drama department.
Once Hunter was deeply involved in his studies, he decided that, in order to compete for some acting and leading roles, he needed to lose some weight, so he went on a diet last summer, exercised, and lost 85 pounds. Not an easy feat. When he returned to school, some of his teachers did a double-take when they saw him. “A few even shed a tear when they saw what he had done,” his mother said.
With her two sons well involved in their own lives at this point, Cheryl continues her participation in Clear Space Theatre Company work. Currently, she is acting in “The Foreigner,” in September and October. She continues to take Clear Space courses such as acting and dancing.
Cheryl is now an honorary member of the Clear Space Board of Directors, helping out where needed. “Between Clear Space and church, I stay busy,” she said.
This year, on Oct. 23, her birthday, she and Henley will go to New York City to see a show performance that Hunter is involved in. “This will be the first time that we’ve been given the option of doing this,” she said. “Next year, shows like this will be open to the public.”
“I’m proud of both my sons,” Cheryl said. “By staying active with Clear Space and other causes, I can feel engaged with them and their active lives. We have much to talk about when we are together.”
The Clear Space office can be reached at 302-227-2270 and the website address is www.clearspacetheatre.org.