Don't Need Fame For Magic Moment


November 22, 1992|By KEVIN THOMAS

There are people who toil in the clouds. Movie stars. Celebrities. And there are people who toil close to the earth. And they are no less miraculous than all the others.

I went to Toby's Dinner Theater in Columbia the other day to watch a production of "The Velveteen Rabbit" that was being put on for a group of Howard County sixth graders. The show is part of the theater's youth series, which is in the midst of its second annual run.

Exposing young people to the theater is a little like taking a Golden Retriever to a pond full of geese. Water gets all over the place, feathers fly, and boy, ain't that dog having a whole lot of fun.

Well, while the children sit around the stage having all this fun, they're also supposed to be learning something about themselves.

Most of the students are from Howard schools, but some come from other jurisdictions, too. That's because Toby's is a very popular place.

The actors, all professionals, come from all over. At night, they perform in other productions in the area.

The theater itself is the life's work of Toby Orenstein, who is, as they say, an institution around these parts. She's the one who gets all this talent together for these productions that are consistently good.

The show I saw is an original adaptation of the children's book by Margery Williams. The stage play was done by local writer Carol Graham Lehan and the songs and music were composed by another local, Tom French.

Everybody played their respective parts. The kids watched and asked questions later, the actors did a fabulous job of acting and Toby Orenstein was master of ceremonies. And there I was, too old to be one of the students, not skilled enough to be one of the teachers and too, too devoid of talent to be one of the actors.

The show is about self-discovery, in this case a toy rabbit's attempt to find his purpose in life while occupying the bedroom of a small boy. With no legs to speak of and no special qualities like the other toys in the room, the Velveteen Rabbit suffers the loneliness and self-doubt of a misfit.

In time, the rabbit comes to realize there is a role for him in life as the boy's companion, and that in loving and being loved even a not-so-fancy stuffed rabbit can be pretty special.

I remember when I first came to The Baltimore Sun nearly nine years ago. I didn't know exactly what it was I wanted to do. So, naturally, I tried everything. I went from county reporter, to urban schools reporter, to features writer, to copy editor, to business reporter.

(I'm not sure how I ever ended up in that last job. My guess is that as I was steaming down the career track in a frenzy and just careened off in the wrong direction.)

Well, after a few brain-twisting months of writing about stock options, seasonally adjusted sales and joint venture capital, I decided I needed to find another calling.

That led to what I'm doing now, which includes spending time watching theater in the middle of the day with a group of sixth graders and, simultaneously, wondering who I am.

Now I realize all of this may seem a little tangential to a toy rabbit's search for actualization. But as I was sitting there watching this play unfold, it occurred to me that all of us there were suddenly on this wonderful journey together. And for a moment we were all touched by something special.

Maybe none of the actors is destined for Broadway, though certainly not for a lack of talent. Not every kid in the audience will grow up to be famous or a great scientist or an engineer. And so what if Toby's is, after all, just a dinner theater in Columbia?

The magic of the moment and the triumph in self-discovery is something we all share. For those of us who toil so close to the earth as this, it's no less a miracle at all.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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