Actor moves from stage to school classrooms

November 14, 1994|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

Rick Stohler, clad in a yellow and orange costume with goggles and booties, wades into a sea of second-graders at Centennial Lane High School as the character Lester, touting the merits of individuality in the children's musical "Fledgly: Eggsactly Like Me."

The Owen Brown resident was at the other end of the musical spectrum the evening before, portraying slick-talking Sky Masterson, the hippest cat in "Guys and Dolls" at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia.

Of the two roles, portraying Lester is closer to Mr. Stohler's goal: educating elementary school children. Mr. Stohler, 41, has applied for an elementary school teaching position in Howard County Public Schools.

"It's something that after all these years, I'd like to get back to," he said. "I began to realize that it's time to get back to my first love. I forgot how rewarding it is."

From 1977 to 1983, Mr. Stohler taught elementary students in Prince William County, Va. Now, after more than a decade of local theater, he is hoping to restart a career he views as steadier than relying on dinner theater gratuities.

"He probably did every [Juan] Peron in every 'Evita' in the area," said Toby Orenstein, producer and director of Toby's Dinner Theatre.

Next month, Mr. Stohler will shave his head to play Daddy Warbucks in "Annie Warbucks" at Toby's.

"I've worked with him for 10 years and I've seen his growth. Ten years ago, he probably wouldn't have shaved his head. That's a big step," Ms. Orenstein said.

Mr. Stohler, who was raised in Hawthorne, N.J., is certified to teach in his native state, which has reciprocity with Virginia. He needs two classes for a Maryland teaching certificate.

While he awaits certification, Mr. Stohler spends his evenings performing in dinner theater and his days at elementary schools in "Fledgly."

The children's musical is a creation of the Labels Project, a partnership involving Howard County Public Schools, the Columbia School of Theatrical Arts and Toby's that has been performing this year at nearly all Howard County elementary schools. Its goal is to increase awareness of the harm in using negative stereotypes.

"I pushed to have Rick here because of his experience in teaching third-graders. It's hard to find actors who have an education background," said Rob McQuay, coordinator for the Labels Project.

The musical celebrates individuality. Each member of Lester's group in the play has traits that make that person special, despite some obvious physical peculiarities.

For example, Lester has big eyes and can see for long distances. Fester, played by Prince Havely, has big feet that let him run quickly. Dester, played by Dan Felton, has big hands and can pick up large objects. And Mester, played by Amy D. Forbes, has big ears and good hearing.

The group ventures into the hamlet of Eggsylvania to find Fledgly, played by David James. In keeping with the king's edict, they must don blue egg costumes so everyone looks like everyone else. They find Fledgly and help him only after realizing they must remove their egg costumes and use their individual traits toward a common goal.

The musical was created by Howard County elementary schoolchildren, who were asked for their ideas.

"They felt the teachers treated them all the same," Mr. Stohler said.

The ideas were written into a script by Lynn Broderick, teacher at Manor Woods Elementary School, and set to music by Tom French, who plays Rusty Charlie in "Guys and Dolls" at Toby's.

The "Fledgly" troupe has played at about 30 elementary schools and plans to end its run early next month.

Mr. McQuay said he hopes that one of the Labels Project's creations will find an audience outside Howard County.

After the recent performance of "Fledgly" at Centennial Lane, the students separated into classes to talk about the play. Mr. Stohler accompanied Debbie Rund's second-grade class and led the discussion of the play.

"If we all looked the same, what problems would we have?" he asked the class.

Hayley Kline, 7, said, "If you had a friend over, your Mom or Dad wouldn't know who is who."

"They're really in tune with what we want them to think," Mr. Stohler said of the students.

The Labels Project will present a free public performance of "Fledgly: Eggsactly Like Me" at 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at Wilde Lake High School at River Hill, 12101 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville.

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