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Woman who grew up on Apollo stage to make directorial debut

September 22, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - When she was 10, Laura Speis appeared in her first show at the Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg, W.Va. Now 24, Speis is directing her first Apollo show, "The Sound of Music," scheduled to run this weekend and next.

"I literally grew up here," Speis said.

Her parents, James and Jeanne Butts, started taking her to theater shows when she was a little girl, Speis said.

"They've always been very supportive of the arts. They enjoy the theater and musicals themselves," she said.

For 14 years, her mother has helped with costumes for her theater shows, Speis said.

She chose to make her Apollo directing debut with "The Sound of Music" because, "it's the most beloved musical of all time. I knew it would make a lot of money, and that's something we have to consider," she said.

The Apollo is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization.

"It's a show that everyone knows. Even people who don't normally go to the theater will go see 'The Sound of Music,'" she said.

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The musical's large cast also gives many people the opportunity to be on stage, especially children. Speis said her favorite part of the theater experience is teaching.

"One of the best things about the show was having such a young cast ... watching them get it," she said.

Speis has spent 10 hours a week in rehearsals since auditions were held in late July, ensuring that her 30-member cast "gets it."

Speis joked that directing the musical took nine months - as long as it would take to have a baby. She started studying the script and designing costumes and sets in January.

"It consumed my life," she said.

Because she has performed with the Apollo for so long, taking on the role of director was challenging, Speis said.

"Some people still look at me as 'little Laura,'" she said.

Speis majored in theater education at Fairmont State University for two years before transferring to Shepherd University to pursue a more general degree. Speis graduates from Shepherd in May 2007.

Her dream is to earn a master's degree in social work and become a counselor for autistic children and their families.

For Speis, counseling and acting have their roots in the same thing - people skills.

She has worked with autistic children through the Arc of Washington County.

"I feel very connected to those children. I really enjoy working with them," she said.

Human nature fascinates her, Speis said.

When an actor performs on stage, a person is created, and "that's what acting is all about," she said.

"It's a hobby. It's a passion."

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