Pupil-playwrights, actor collaborate

April 01, 1999|By Jeff Grossman | Jeff Grossman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's 3 p.m. at Mayfield Woods Middle School. The bell rang almost a half-hour ago, and most of the pupils have left for the day.

Twelve pupils remain, though, sitting around a lone table in the middle of the empty cafeteria, trying desperately to read over the script for their original play that they've worked on for the past couple of months.

The pupils, along with 23 of their classmates, have been collaborating with local actor and writer Mike Easterling to write a play titled "Back to the Present." The play follows the adventures of a group of young pupils who accidentally bring middle school pupils from 1969 into the present.

Easterling resigned recently from WJZ-TV in Baltimore, where he had worked for the past 17 years occupying a variety of positions, from production manager to local programming executive.

Easterling, who quit to pursue marketing and acting, had a small television role recently in the second part of the "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "Law & Order" crossover.

He became involved with the play when he called Debbie Meyer -- acting as the official adviser of the play for the Howard County Council of Arts -- concerning an unrelated issue.

The 12 pupils rehearsing the play represent the main acting parts, but all 35 have given significant input on every aspect, including script, makeup and set design.

Easterling, who wrote the skeleton script, has been acting as a director as well as a sounding board for the pupils' many ideas for the production.

"As we read through the script, they added things they felt were appropriate and told me things that were inappropriate that an adult wouldn't know," he said.

"Things that kids don't say or phrases that they don't use. It would have been a lot easier to have just handed them a script to memorize on Day One. This way the kids can give the play their own feel."

He thinks the early writing process was useful not only as a learning exercise for the pupils, but also to eliminate those who might have been less enthusiastic about participating.

"These are the survivors," said Kim Granahan, the play's teacher liaison. "We started out with about 57 kids signed up, and the ones who really wanted to stay have stayed. We really got to find which ones really want to be here, and which ones don't."

"The beginning was kind of boring," said Caleb Jones, who plays D.J., a pupil from 1969. "We had to go through all of rules and write the script, but it's better now. Every practice I'm learning something new, and it's fun."

The play is a product of a partnership that the Howard County Arts Council recently developed with the Howard County Office of Recreation and Park's Hot Spot Program and Mayfield Woods Middle School.

The program provides pupils with an opportunity to explore the arts, and at the same time keeps them busy after school.

"The program gives students who may not excel in academic or sports-oriented after-school activities a chance to be active and explore their creative side," said Colleen West, executive director of the Arts Council.

The play also seems to be uncovering future performers. "We're finding some very talented and very gifted students," said Easterling. "They're a bit crazy, but we're seeing some good little actors and actresses developing."

"I just love to sing and act," said Nick Walsh, who plays a computer club member who brings the children from 1969 to the present. Mayfield Woods pupils will present the play April 23 at the "black box theater" at Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. Ticket are free but must reserved by calling 410-313-2787.

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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