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Fairy tale production's grant deadline expires on June 8

June 01, 2005|by BOB MAGINNIS

This summer, as part of Hagerstown's annual Augustoberfest celebration, a group of students will perform an original work based on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Students act in plays and musicals all the time, but this one will be different. The first word of dialogue hasn't been written yet and there won't be any auditions for anyone 13 or under. Everyone who signs up will have a part in the production and input on the script.

Despite what might seem to be a chaotic approach, the Washington County school system has agreed to subsdize the production to the tune of $10,000 - if the Authentic Community Theatre Inc. (ACT) can sign up 30 students for a two-week camp by Wednesday, June 8.

As of last week, only three had paid the $200 tuition, according to Niki Perini, ACT's artistic director.

Is it hopeless? If Perini were an unexperienced amateur, it might be. But she's been acting since she was a teen, served as artistic program director at the Girls Club - now Girls Inc. - for eight years and now works for the school system to help teachers devise ways to infuse art into the curriculum.

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Oh, and in her spare time, she teaches voice and dance at her own studio, Magic in Music and Motion Inc.

Motion is the perfect one-word description of Perini, who gestures like an aerobics instructor trying to motivate a class full of drowsy children as she talks about what inspired her to take on one more thing in a life already jam-packed with work and a family that includes two boys under 10.

"I had been experimenting at the Girls Club because I knew that the arts were going to be extremely important in convincing children that there's something magical inside them that has to be shared," she said.

Perini said the challenge was to find a way to teach children the techniques of theater without boring them or stifling them in the process.

She found what she was looking for at New York University's Tisch School for the Arts, where Tony Goode and Warwick Dobson were teaching techniques pioneered by Dorothy Heathcote.

Heathcote's approach, in the simplest terms, is to teach techniques by becoming part of the group of student actors and shaping the lesson according to their input, as opposed to lecturing them as the all-wise professor.

Perini likened the process to an excerise in sychronized swimming. Instead of just lecturing students on technique, the teacher becomes part of the "swim team," she said.

"It's all about the process and not the result, but you end up with a final product that is generally breathtaking," she said.

"It truly is community theater - for the community, by the community and of the community. We take who is there and create together. The actors are part of defining the concept," she said.

But because the endeavor needs some starting point, ACT chose the Grimms' fairy tales. Whatever form the local production takes, the fairy tale theme will run through it, she said.

The students who sign up won't be totally on their own, however.

"The students will have an opportunity to work with professionals," she said,

"We'll have three professional composers, three drama instructors - two from NYU and myself - three movement teachers and our choral director, a costumer designer and a set designer," she said.

The classes will be held from Aug. 1-14 four days a week at South Hagerstown High School and on Fridays at Perini's studio, which is just off Marsh Pike.

One of the reasons the high-wire act has been such a reliable staple of the circus is that when it works, it's fantastic and when it doesn't, it's a disaster.

What Perini is doing is something like a high-wire act, but with a bonus that anyone who has ever performed in a school play or marching band has already experienced.

In those situations, not only does the group learn together, but a bond develops that's part friendship and part determination to do the best performance possible.

If this sounds like something you or your child might be interested in, you can learn more by visiting the ACT Web site at AuthenticCommunityTheatre.org or by e-mailing Perini at ACT@perini.net. If you don't have Internet access, you may call her at 301-790-7903.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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