Nurturing thespians

Groups, parents can get children involved in theater

Groups, parents can get children involved in theater

November 05, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Teri Walker is looking for a few good monkeys.

And munchkins.

The rest of the roles in Walker Performing Arts Company's May production of "The Wizard of Oz" have been cast.

More than 25 youngsters from elementary to high school age are involved. They attend theater skill development and group voice classes on Tuesday evenings in the education building at St. John's Lutheran Church in downtown Hagerstown.

Walker, who has a degree in education, studied vocal performance and has been involved in theater for years, started a similar program with 16 students in Frederick, Md., eight years ago. Enrollment has grown to 350 students, and her Frederick County Performing Arts Company presents a dozen youth productions a year.


Along with area community theaters and a few other programs, Walker's program opens the stage to children.

In Walker's assessment, arts education is dwindling in schools.

"Art falls through the cracks," she said. And often, in schools where it remains, the same three or four students always get the parts, she said.

In her programs, "Everyone gets a chance to participate," Walker said.

There is tuition for her nonprofit program, but a sliding scale accommodates students who might not be able to afford the fees. "Our mission is that all kids can have this if they want it."

The role of Dorothy Gale is double cast. Maria Jones, 11, and Rebecca Gonzalez, 13 - both students at St. Mary Elementary School in Hagerstown - each will perform two shows of the presentation at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

This is Maria's fourth year in Walker's programs.

She and the other students assembled in the education building at St. John's Lutheran Church attend Tuesday's theater skill development and group voice classes.

"I enjoy getting up and putting myself in another person," Maria said. "It's fun."

Her mother, Patti Jones, said her daughter always has wanted act. "She has so much fun doing it. She just comes alive."

The students are not sitting around watching television or playing video games. They are engaged. Creating. Using their minds, their bodies.

"It's active," said Mark McCoy, chairman of the Department of Music and Theater at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

McCoy is directing a new musical theater production of "Anne of Green Gables," the classic tale by L.M. Montgomery.

The script was written by Texas playwright Sylvia Ashby; McCoy wrote the original score.

The play, which will be on stage at Shepherd's Frank Center Theater from Friday, Nov. 19, through, Sunday, Nov. 21, is a presentation of the university's Preparatory Division, an outreach designed to provide quality instruction to students ages 5 to 18. The instrumental music program has been operating for a few years. The 13-piece pit orchestra includes music students from the prep program with college students and professional musicians mixed in.

"It's a great opportunity to introduce students to the arts," McCoy said.

And to each other. There are home-schooled students who are meeting kids they wouldn't otherwise meet. First-graders share the stage with a college professor.

"We're bringing together kids from so many different worlds," McCoy said.

Many of the children in Walker's program learned about it from friends who already were involved. Some saw her summer camp productions - "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" or "Bye Bye Birdie" - and decided they wanted to participate.

"My goal is to be an actor when I grow up," said Peter Hockenbury, 9, a Clear Spring Elementary School fifth-grader. He portrays Hickory and the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz."

"I'm shy," said Gabi Schiro, 14, a St. Maria Goretti freshman. Gabi said playing Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch is fun.

"I just feel really good when I'm doing it."

"Theater broadens one's perspective," said Stephen Levi, a published playwright who has more than 30 years of experience in film and television.

For the past three summers, Levi has directed Apollo Civic Theatre's Youth Summer Workshop in Martinsburg, W.Va., which has been offering kids opportunities to perform for more than 20 years.

"It gives them a larger view of the world," he said.

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