Before Jack Miller, 15, joined the Encore Theatre group in Libertyville when he was in fourth grade, he was rather shy, he said.
"I honestly didn't have anything I thought I was good at," Miller said. "Being in Encore helped me gain the confidence I needed to become a more outgoing person."
Jack enters high school this year, and will no longer be eligible to be in Encore Theatre, which works with children from kindergarten through eighth grade.
His brother, Benjamin, who is entering third grade also won't be able to be a part of the theater, either, after this season. Director and owner Bob Silton, of Libertyville, is closing its doors so he can spend more time leading the back stage crew at the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire.
"I think it's time. I would love to do this forever, and maybe one day I can come back and do more shows," Silton, 31, said.
"But I think for me, I need to try new things and end well and end on a good note. I want our last season to be a big celebration of what we've done and of the theater."
The 2014-15 theme will be the so-called "season of true believers" and will include "Once Upon A Mattress," "Tarzan," "Seussical" and "Fame," ending with "Peter Pan." The group rehearses and performs at the Libertyville Civic Center.
Silton announced his decision at the last cast party after the students completed "Shrek."
Benjamin's mom, Kayce Miller, said her son cried when he heard the news.
"I think it's very sad for these younger kids," Miller said. "They see how much fun the eighth graders have their last year. All the kids look forward to that."
But she added she understand why Silton wants to pursue new adventures.
"I have mixed feelings. I think Bob and (Annie Snow, the group's choreographer) are destined for greater things," she said. "For me, I'm so happy for them. As a parent, I'm sad for Benjamin. I've seen what Encore has done for Jack."
Silton, who earned a degree in arts management administration from Columbia College, started Encore Theatre, Jr., in 1998 because he said, "there were very few programs that offered actual theater for kids."
Silton said his philosophy was to push the group to do better each year.
"We always tried to something we found scary," he said.
For example, Encore did "Les Miserables" last summer.
"At the beginning, we thought, what are we doing? But it worked. People who have a passion for what they want to do, they'll make it work," Silton said.
He admitted trying certain shows with younger children, can be difficult.
"Kids this age have never been in love. It's hard to play those parts. But they really grow into the parts and really become those characters. For example, we did 'Brigadoon.' It's such a romantic classical show. None of my kids knew about it, but it turned out to be one of the favorite shows they've done."
Jack Miller said he appreciated getting challenged by Silton.
"He didn't baby us. He put us to work and trained us to give the best performance we could possibly give," said Jack, who played the lead role in "Shrek" this spring.
Choreographer Annie Snow said she appreciated that Silton brought her on when she was only 20 years old.
"He gave me so much freedom," she said. After working with Encore for 10 years, she said, "it's bittersweet that it's closing." But with a bachelor's degree in dance and a master's in dance therapy, Snow said she now has more time to focus on that part of her career.
Silton said local parents can find other opportunities for their young children to learn about theater in Libertyville, Evanston and at park districts.
"There's plenty to go around," he said.
Silton said he's looking forward to focusing on the craft of working back stage at Marriott.
"I really enjoy it there," he said. "I feel welcome and important and needed."