Students take message on the road Musical stresses anti-drug theme ANNE ARUNDEL SCHOOLS

September 28, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

It wasn't quite New York's famous Shubert Theatre, but for one evening the cafeteria of Bates Middle School was filled with enough electricity to bring a bit of Broadway to Annapolis.

"What's my first line?" one young girl asked as she paced behind a black curtain.

"Are they here? I don't see them," said another as she searched the audience for friends and family.

"Shhh! Everybody quiet," a young man yelled.

Then, lights, music, and 18 youngsters kicked off another production of "Turn Right!", a musical drama for young people about staying off drugs, improving self-esteem and making the right decisions in life.

The actors, most of whom are students at Annapolis Middle or Bates Middle schools, have been taking their act on the road the past month to schools throughout the county.

They will give their final performance Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., at Annapolis Middle School.

The musical drama the students perform, usually in front of peers and their parents, centers around a group of students trying out for a school musical.

The kids in the play must confront fears of being perceived as uncool, or just a complete nerd, if they try out for a school musical.

Other issues, like the pressure of not wearing to-die-for clothes, or not looking like the next Cindy Crawford, also are confronted during the 30-minute show.

But the main focus of the play deals with drugs.

While not preaching, the students in the play show how the "coolest" kid in the school, a character named Chris, is not so cool when he gets busted for dealing drugs.

And, through the use of four very lively puppets, a shy, insecure character named Alex learns that being like Chris isn't what he wants after all.

In its second year, "Turn Right!" is the brainchild of Mac Bogert and Debbie Barber, who work for the county school system coordinating programs on drug prevention and education.

Mr. Bogert said he was approached by Susan Still, director of outreach programs for Maryland Hall, in 1981 about getting a grant to work on an anti-drug program. A "vague" idea "just blossomed" and became "Turn Right!", Mr. Bogert said.

Ms. Barber and Mr. Bogert wrote the play together, making a few revisions this year. And, Mr. Bogert wrote all the original music.

Like the characters in the play, the students also have undergone a change.

Some might even call it an awakening.

"The whole idea of the show is self-esteem," Ms. Barber said. "All of them here have gained a lot of confidence.

"Most of these kids didn't know each other when they began so they were a little apprehensive about that, too. But now some of them are just best buds," she added.

The young actors and actresses echoed Ms. Barber's sentiments.

"Yes, I was scared to death," said 13-year-old Stacy Grismer. "I didn't know anyone here."

Jess Rohrbaugh, 14, added: "I always cared about what other people thought. Now, it doesn't matter."

The youngsters say they know their anti-drug message is getting through to their fellow students from the response they receive.

"A lot of them get the message," said 13-year-old Juliet Chambless. "Sometimes kids will come up to you and say, 'Good job,' so you know they sort of look up to you and think what we're saying makes sense."

Sometimes it's the lack of response that lets the young actors know they got through to some of their audience members, said Peter O'Malley, 13, who plays a drug dealer in the musical.

"We were at one school and afterward no little kids would come up to me," Peter said. "They were like, 'Nooooo. I'm not talking to you.' "

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