'I like to be the boss,' says young director, 11 Stage: A cast of 13 children will perform a modern take on 'Cinderella' written by Claire Vogelstien, at noon Sunday at Barnes & Noble in Towson.

December 09, 1998|By Rasmi Simhan | Rasmi Simhan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The evil stepmother lounges on an impromptu "bed" of chairs, threatening: "All right, this wig is coming off in two seconds."

Meanwhile, Cinderella can't find her broom. The Mitzvah Fairy is nudging Cinderella's "coach" -- a stuffed pink snake -- with her rubber boot. The prince is flexing his biceps for the benefit of a mouse. And someone is sitting on Cinderella's shaggy-dog slippers.

Then the 11-year-old Claire Vogelstien snaps shut the clapboard and cries, "Action!" -- and the set grows quiet as rehearsal begins.

A cast of 13 children, mostly 11-year-olds, will perform Claire's modern take on "Cinderella" at noon Sunday at Barnes & Noble in Towson.

"Ever since I was little, I've loved to tell people what to do," said Claire, "Cinderella's" writer, producer and director.

Claire, a sixth-grader at Krieger Schecter Middle School, worked on a script with her mother for four days in September and posted fliers about tryouts in school. Although she accepted the first actors to audition, they discussed role preferences and performed readings for her. Latecomers were turned away with a promise to be among the first to audition for her next production.

Claire coached the cast for the first three weeks. Mitzvah Fairy Jennifer Akchim recalled theater "games" that involved trust, concentration and improvisation.

"I learned to be a lot louder," Akchim shouted over the din at rehearsal. "I was surprised at how professional [Claire] was."

The cast has rehearsed at Claire's Owings Mills home every Sunday for two hours since October.

She faces two main challenges with the young cast: enforcing rehearsal attendance and keeping actors focused once they arrive. She calls the actors every Sunday to remind them about rehearsal, and they in turn coordinate practice with lessons and sports.

As for control, "It's tough to get people to listen to someone their own age," she said. "I've learned that directing isn't as simple as saying, 'You stand here.' You've got to repeat things, over and over, until they look good. And," she grins, "you've got to have help sometimes."

Claire's plays have become a family enterprise. Her mother Eve helps write the plays, books venues and maintains contact with acting agencies. Her father and brother work with backgrounds, and her sister Hana Rose does makeup.

"It can be annoying when all she talks about is directing," said Hana Rose, 15. At a recent party, Claire recruited 40 friends to shoot mock commercials on video, she said. "But it's great that she loves what she does, and I like being associated with it. It makes me feel big."

Claire collaborated with her art teacher and Hana Rose to paint four scenes, including a fairy-tale castle in pink, gold and blue and a "Beauty and the Beast"-style ballroom.

Don't let the ballroom fool you. The music in this "Cinderella" runs the gamut, from opera to tunes from the Spice Girls and "Weird Al" Yankovic. Theater summer camps helped Claire learn to choreograph the dances. But performing them is another task altogether.

The prince said his greatest challenge is the waltz.

"Cinderella [Rebecca Stainman] told me to move my feet twice, then follow her around in circles," said Jeff Berenholtz, 12. "I keep trying."

Claire said her teachers ask her to remember them when she's famous. They did protest when she asked to write a third book report on a biography of her idol, director Steven Spielberg. She said she admires the realistic dinosaurs in the Spielberg-directed film "Jurassic Park" and is impressed by the fact that her friends still talk about them.

"I hope that I'll be a big hit like him and that a little girl will want to do a book report about me," she said.

Her biography could begin with this scene: "One day I was sitting in the kitchen eating dinner and watching a movie, and I thought, 'I could do that,' " Claire said.

She hopes to become the youngest film director in history and inch her way into the business through acting. She would follow a family tradition; her uncle Robert Lawrence produced films such as "Clueless" and "Die Hard with a Vengeance."

Claire's acting credits include a WNBA commercial and a cameo in Barry Levinson's coming film "Liberty Heights."

But although she now performs with the Young Actors Theatre, a local theater group -- and occasionally clashes with the director -- she prefers directing.

"I like to be the boss," she said.

"Cinderella" is the fourth of Claire's productions, which began three years ago with "The Lion King" and include "The Story of Esther" and "Snow White." She chooses tales that offer many large roles to please the actors.

Claire's mother, Eve, booked the first shows at nursing homes. Expanding production to bookstores broadens Claire's audience, Mrs. Vogelstien said.

"Her plays are really good for kids because they're fairy tales, and they're funny," Mrs. Vogelstien said. "We wanted to take the plays where kids could enjoy them."

Productions have drawn crowds of more than 100, according to Mrs. Vogelstien.

"People call us and ask about the next performance," Mrs. Vogelstien said. "She's developed quite a following."

Claire said she's prepared to see this "following" grow.

"I've been practicing my signature for autographs since first grade," she said. "It's gotten pretty good so far."

'Cinderella'

What: Youth production directed by Claire Vogelstien

When: Noon on Sunday

Where: Barnes & Noble bookstore, 1 E. Joppa Road, Towson

Admission: Free

Call: 410-296-7021

Pub Date: 12/09/98

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