70 squiggly kids stilled by silence in motion

April 08, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

Actor and playwright Douglas Love didn't have to speak a word yesterday to rivet the attention of an audience of normally wiggly, giggly fourth-graders at Centennial Lane Elementary School.

The 70 students attending one of two afternoon presentations by Mr. Love fell into a quiet trance as he performed two brief pantomimes. The goal of the skits: showing the children how a story can be told through body movements and facial expressions.

Sometimes silence can say a lot.

When Mr. Love next asked the group for volunteers to improvise a pantomime about baseball, the room exploded with hands in the air and a clamor of voices.

And, when Mr. Love asked for other volunteers to perform "cold" two scenes from a children's play he's authored for a new theater kit, he was awash in bodies surging around him.

After his presentation, which included tips on concentration and how to use detail for effect, Mr. Love explained the enviable enthusiasm and interest this way:

"Theater is exciting, it's magic to kids. They want to get up and be part of that magic because inside themselves they are still in touch. As adults we forget that magic. Theater keeps people in touch with the magic."

Fourth-grader Nancy Linthicum, who dreams of being an author one day, was among those enthralled -- and inspired -- by Mr. Love and his presentation.

"He made everything really interesting. His pantomimes were imaginative and they were funny. I think that might help me when writing books. The main thing I learned was that if you really work and concentrate, you can do what you want to do," said the 9-year-old.

The visitor's presentation was so effective, said Nancy, because "he hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a kid."

Mr. Love, a one-time child actor who is on a national tour promoting his theater kit for children, says he has been visiting schools to encourage children to take an active interest in live theater.

Mr. Love's theater kit, "So You Want To Be A Star," is marketed byHarperFestival, a division of HarperCollins Publishers. It includes a book with two plays authored by Mr. Love, "Blame it on the Wolf," and "Be Kind to Your Mother (Earth)."

The kits include a director's guide, which tells children how to set up and perform a play with friends, and several playbooks. The kit is part of a series of book-related theater kits that HarperFestival plans to market this year, said Shelley Sanderson, a spokeswoman for HarperCollins.

"Theater audiences are getting older and older. One of my goals in doing this is to, hopefully, plant the seeds of interest so there are theater audiences in the future."

He also believes that several of the skills needed in live theater can prove beneficial to children in their schoolwork and lives, particularly concentration and keen observation to details.

"In live theater, concentration is very important so that if a mistake occurs in a performance you can go on. A child who has strong concentration can use that skill in school work, life endeavors and goals. They can go on despite mistakes.

"I want live theater accessible to children," said Mr. Love.

"Kids shouldn't feel they need an entire drama team at school to have fun with theater.

"They just need four or five friends at home or the back yard to perform these plays."

He said he wrote the plays with the intention that they teach children beneficial lessons, such as the value of looking at all sides of an issue before making a decision.

Lauren Slattery, a homeroom teacher and drama coordinator at Centennial Lane who helped organize Mr. Love's visit, said she was excited about the presentation because she believed that his stature as a published playwright and actor would have be inspirational to the children.

"He has a lot of credibility with the children. I know he's touring around to sell a product but he also has the power to spark a child's interest in drama and their own creativity," the teacher said.

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