Children get star turn

Theater: The founder of Baltimore Children's Theater hopes for more than good stage performances from members of his troupe.

April 05, 2001|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Lying in a hospital bed as a teen, Mark Andrew Beachy settled on what he wanted to do for a career.

A bout with a sinus infection that quickly escalated to fluid in his lungs left the then-15-year-old Beachy thinking about how much a visit from a performer means to sick children and adults. Now 24, the Ellicott City resident has launched the Baltimore Children's Theater's first big production at Howard County Center for the Arts.

"There hadn't been much children's theater around here," Beachy said. "My hope is to have the children perform at senior centers and hospitals as well as in productions."

No stranger to performing, Beachy has built a reputation throughout the area doing voice-over work and acting in local productions of plays such as "Hello, Dolly!" and "South Pacific." While a sophomore at Towson University in 1997, he wrote a musical called " 'Bout Baltimore," which won a WMAR bicentennial playwrights contest and was produced as a one-hour television special.

"I first appeared on stage when I was 3 during a violin recital, and at the age of 10 I did my first play for the Drama Learning Center," Beachy said. "I just fell in love with acting."

Hoping to inspire other children with that love, Beachy formed the Children's Theater last year and recently held auditions at the arts center for a musical he has written based on "Alice in Wonderland."

The story follows Alice as she falls down a rabbit hole and meets M.R. Mouse. Alice meets talking flowers, a singing caterpillar and dancing tea cups with the usual cast of characters such as the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter.

A hush fell over the room as 13-year-old Micayla Diener sang "Part of Your World" from the Disney film "The Little Mermaid." Micayla, who lives in Columbia, said she decided to audition to "build my skills and expand my repertoire."

Barbara Challman brought her sons, Matthew, 6, Andrew, 4, and Peter, 2, to cheer on their 8-year-old big sister, Mary, at the auditions. Challman said her daughter has big aspirations for her musical career.

"Mary wants to be on Broadway," Challman said. "Mark is very enthusiastic, and he's very good with the kids."

One "big kid" who lucked out at the audition was Larry Woodland. The 26-year-old Parkville resident snagged the role of the Caterpillar after leading some of the other prospective cast mates in an impromptu performance of the "Caterpillar Congo."

"I didn't know what I was getting myself into," Woodland said. "Mark and I know some of the same people and he asked me to audition."

Beachy said he plans to expand the theater company to offer drama courses for children and is excited about the recent designation of nonprofit status for the company. A deal is in the works to televise "Alice in Wonderland," Beachy said, and he has bigger hopes for his pint-sized performers.

"Besides teaching drama, I also want to teach moral values and community involvement," Beachy said. "It's important to teach those things when they are young."

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