Michele and Michael Rubino

Michele and Michael Rubino and their son Mikey, 14, will be leaving Ahwatukee for Kentucky in April. Michele founded the Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre.

After spending 21 years involving hundreds of children in productions and musical groups at Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre, founder-owner Michele Rubino is leaving.

The Ahwatukee resident and her husband Michael are heading to Kentucky, where he starts a new job.

She is saddened to leave the nonprofit educational theatre program but encouraged that Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre would continue.

She explained moving was not a decision made easily and that it actually was set in motion in May 2019, when Maricopa County decided to outsource their ergonomic services, which her husband had provided for more than 20 years.

“The beginning of December, Michael received an offer to be an ergonomic specialist for Premise Health. Premise provides on-site health services for Fortune 500 companies and he’ll be working at the largest Toyota plant in the world,” she explained. 

Her husband had been working as an independent contractor the past year and a half with Waymo, an autonomous driving technology development company but his contract was ending in July. 

And then came the offer from Premise Health, and suddenly Lexington, Kentucky, was on the radar.  

On Jan. 6, the couple visited the city – Kentucky’s second largest and home to the University of Kentucky. It was Michele Rubino’s first glimpse of the city she will call home.

The couple has purchased a newly-built home in the “Horse Capital of the World” and will emigrate this April along with their son, 14-year-old Mikey.  

Mary Tucci, Michele Rubino’s mother and longtime Ahwatukee resident who’s affectionately known as “Mary-Mom” by staff and students at Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre, is also moving to Kentucky and will live in the couple’s new residence. 

“This new job not only offers us a good income and benefits, but something we haven’t had in a long time – stability,” said Michele Rubino. 

Yet even with the job opportunity and new house with a basement on three-quarters of an acre, the Rubinos still feel the sadness of leaving behind friends, Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre staff and students and even Michael’s parents, Michael and Jackie Rubino of Gilbert.

“Leaving them and our friends will be very difficult, and leaving ACT will be the most difficult thing I have ever had to do,” she admitted. “I am confident that my friends, my team will continue our traditions.”

Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre was founded in 2000 by Michele Rubino, and two years later was granted a nonprofit status. 

Her motivation, she said, was to provide children and families with a community-based performing arts program that “fostered confidence in children.”

In its two-decade history, Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre produced more than 50 musical shows, and traveled the world with their award-winning Select Show Choir for grades 9 through 12 and Treble Makers for grades 5 to 9.  

Younger students in kindergarten through sixth grades learned the ropes in the All Keyed Up choir that performed locally.

ACT was continuing on a solid growth path with their annual children’s musicals, summer camps and annual Christmas Carol production performed in downtown Phoenix to sell-out crowds.

And since her announcement in late December, she said the question she’s hearing is “What will happen to the Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre?”

“As I’ve often said, Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre is bigger than a building, and it’s definitely bigger than one person,” the founder and owner said. “We have a great team who have really stepped up and expressed their desire to keep the magic alive. As long as we can weather the storm that is COVID, ACT will continue.”

In 2020, COVID-19 took its toll on ACT as it did other area music, dance and acting studios. 

Prior to the mid-March shutdown, more than 150 students attended classes in the 3,500 square foot studio at 11011 S. 48th Street. And then, their doors shuttered as uncertainty reigned.

Once CDC guidelines took effect and allowed ACT to reopen its doors, social distancing and ever-changing rules of engagement limited class sizes to eight per session, with students required to organize themselves in chalked boxes marked six feet apart.

In addition, COVID forced this past summer’s productions to be postponed and the Select Show Choir and Treble Maker’s appearances in New York City and Branson, Missouri, were rescheduled for June 2021.

June’s trips remain a big “if.” 

Yet, as Rubino has repeatedly proved, she’s a pragmatic optimist and busy making plans for ACT even as she plans her own move.

“Our short-term goals for ACT are to keep the show choirs going and get them to be able to travel this summer,” she said. “Our long-term goals include wrapping up our Spring 2020 classes to the best of our abilities, undertaking a summer production and, of course, producing a 2021 Christmas Carol that both Michael and I are committed to be a part of,” she added.

“We pray the world turns around in time for us to be able to accomplish all of that, and more, for years to come. I will be teaching and leading ACT until I move this spring and will always be a part of the organization for as long as they will have me,” she smiled. 

“The only thing constant in life is change, and ACT sure has done a lot of changing over the years. One thing that remains constant is our team’s friendship, the love we have for the kids and this community, and the commitment to what makes ACT so very precious.”

Rubino admitted moving away from Ahwatukee and leaving her nonprofit behind brings sadness and yet she said she will use that experience as yet “another real world life lesson” for the kids at ACT.

“I want them to know it’s okay to be sad, but it’s just as important to keep going and to learn and grow from all that life offers you,” she said. 

Rubino said she hopes to teach private voice lessons once in Lexington. 

She’s also looking forward to planting lilacs on her property in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region and appreciating the change of seasons. Michael Rubino’s grandmother, aunts and cousins as well as his best friend, live five hours away in Illinois.

Despite all the changes forthcoming in the next few months, Rubino said she’s thankful.

“We are so thankful Michael was fortunate enough to be offered a job in this tenuous market and look forward to a bright future, but ACT will always be close to our hearts.”

For more information see AZACT.org and find them on Facebook.

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