ONE IS NEVER TOO YOUNG FOR THE LURE OF GREASEPAINT
At the count of eight they broke out in song. Their feet moved smoothly to the '50s rhythm as their hands flailed to the quickening beat. As the last strains of the melody faded, they applauded one another then quickly prepared to rehearse the number again, for the third time.
They are professionals. They also happen to be kids, members of the Kids Onstage performing companies in Historic Ellicott City. These 9- to 13-year-olds who sing, dance and act also like to perform, so they register with Onstage Productions for any or all of its quarterly sessions.
Onstage Productions was founded in Columbia 15 years ago by Betty May, its executive director, and moved eight years later to The Little Theater on the Corner on Main Street. It is composed of two Kids Onstage performing companies, Teens Onstage and the Frustrated Actors Association for adults.
May's casts participate in all aspects of production. They even work the concession stand and clean the theater after a performance. But the grueling rehearsal sessions and long hours don't phase them.
"The kids want to be here." says May. "Even after rehearsal they don't want to leave."
Julie Bonds, 12, explains the lure of the theater. "If you get tired being the same old person, you can pretend to be someone else." Courtney Holden, 11, is not quite as philosophical. "I just like being the center of attention."
During the school year, however, rehearsal and production schedules revolve around school. "If a child cannot keep up his grades, we ask that he leave," explains May. "School comes first."
This guiding principle motivates Mikaela Rossman, 11. "I'm a ham," she says "and I'm going to do well in school so I don't have to drop out."
In the winter, Kids Onstage goes on tour, visiting schools in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. "We get great audience response," says May. "No one leaves to the bathroom."
There is a lot of camaraderie here, chiefly because of May. "The kids know when they walk in this door they'll be treated with love and respect.
Meanness is not tolerated."
Egos aren't tolerated either. Before auditions begin, May admonishes her cast on what it means to be a professional. "If anyone thinks that because he has more lines than someone else he is more important," says May, "then he doesn't belong in show business and he certainly doesn't belong here."
Inhibitions are also left at the door. "Theater kids are not known for their inhibitions," explains May. "Some of the shyest kids offstage exude energy when on."
And what about the untalented who has a yen for the greasepaint? "No such thing as untalented," says May. "We had a kid who had a pitch problem when he was in Kids Onstage. He worked his little heart out and became the star of 'Grease' in Teens Onstage.
May feels that what the stage has to offer is well worth the effort.
"The theater is magic. Aside from self-esteem, poise and confidence, the most important thing the kids get from this is they can get up in front of 800 people, make a mistake and not die."
-- Rona Hirsch
SEE WHAT LIFE IS LIKE FROM BEHIND A BADGE
If you've wondered what it's like to be a police officer, you're more than welcome to ride along with a real cop. But don't expect the suburban police routine to be like "Lethal Weapon" or "Magnum Force."
"It's an opportunity for people to see what the police department is doing in their county," said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, the county police spokesman. "But you've got to be ready for a few dull moments, like when an officer completes a report or patrols his beat."
The county police ride-along program won't take you through crime-ridden streets. Rather, it's a chance to see a slice of life from a police officer's perspective, says Gardner.
"It lets you become familiar with the frustrations that all police officers have to face from day-to-day," Gardner said. "You see the traffic stops, the burglaries, and the police officer responding to the situation."
So far this year, approximately 240 people have participated in the ride-along program, which allows citizens to accompany a county police officer for the duration of his or her routine shift.
The program is primarily used by college students interested in pursuing law-enforcement careers, Gardner said. Police officers' family members and representatives from the local neighborhood liaison programs also have shown a lot of interest in the ride-alongs.
Those interested should obtain a ride-along program application from the police department. The form can be mailed to your home after contacting the department at 992-2208; a notary public must sign a completed waiver that accompanies the application.
Some restrictions apply. Applicants must not wear T-shirts, halter tops, sweat shirts, dungarees, shorts, hot pants, tennis shoes or sandals. If you are not appropriately attired, the watch commander on duty may cancel your permission to ride.
Also, your arrest record will be checked. Those with a serious criminal arrest may be denied permission to participate.
Police department shifts begin at 7 a.m., 3 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. daily.
You may request the day and the shift you would prefer.
-- Michael James