The importance of volunteers to Festival Ballet Theatre cannot be overstated. Every ballet production is a product of the hard work of many volunteers. Through the years, we have had parents, students, and supporters who have dedicated their time and talents to our organization. As we celebrate Festival Ballet Theatre’s 30th year, we would like to acknowledge the contributions of three of our long-time volunteers: Cat and Phil Hunter, and Willa Bouwens-Killeen.

Dressed in black, they stand in their post backstage. They are patient, quick and efficient. From repairing props and costumes to catering to our dancers’ needs, ensuring that their performance goes smoothly, our volunteers have always been there.

For Willa Bouwens-Killeen, the journey began in 1985, right when Festival Ballet Theatre was created by Salwa Rizkalla.  She shares: “I started volunteering with FBT when the company was established, helping backstage and with costumes. I started volunteering because I liked working on the costumes and helping out where I could.” In addition, Willa has also been onstage in many FBT productions, portraying roles that range from being a part of an ensemble to Sleeping Beauty’s mother.  Willa says, “I also enjoy the experience of performing in these great ballets with the fabulous guest artists! It’s wonderful witnessing the passing along of this wonderful art to the different generations.”

Willa Bouwens-Killeen (right) shown with Donald Davison and Beckanne Sisk in Sleeping Beauty (2019).

The husband and wife team of Phil and Cat Hunter started helping backstage when their now adult kids danced at Southland circa 1987. “That year we watched the Nutcracker from the audience, but from then on we have been helping out backstage or in the wings,” said Cat, a Huntington Beach school teacher.  When asked why they started volunteering, she said that “At first we helped because it was expected that all parents volunteer at the productions.  Eventually, it became a family tradition.  Our daughter Claire also volunteers.  She started helping when she was in college and still continues to help when her schedule allows.  Festival Ballet Theatre feels like family to us so each production is like a reunion.  We get to catch up on what everyone has been up to.”

Phil and Cat Hunter (right) photographed after volunteering at Gala of the Stars. This was during the dinner following the show at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. (2017)

For the last thirty years, Willa, Cat, and Phil have been an indispensable part of every Festival Ballet Theatre production. They show up first and leave last, ensuring that each show goes smoothly. They get no compensation or glory, save for the reward of a beautiful performance and the audience’s applause.