Pupils shine in theater's spotlight

Popular show is exercise in building character

April 27, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

It's 3:30 p.m., school's out, and teacher Christopher Providence is surrounded by a gang of peasants, three sheep and the boy who cried wolf.

"Now remember, you have to do what?" asks the drama coach, who is a speech and language pathologist at Edmondson Heights Elementary School. "You have to stay in character."

All around him heads nod. The sheep are bleating.

Providence is in high gear. He's checking costumes, telling kids to project and enunciate and chatting with a former pupil who calls him "Mr. P." About 25 children surround him.

Providence and teacher Arlene Creighton, who helps with the Edmondson Heights Student Theatre Group, are trying to make sense of it all. They've got one last rehearsal before a gregarious troupe of fourth- and fifth-grade actors goes live with its production.

The teachers expect an audience of about 200 at the school's fifth annual dinner theater tonight. The performance, a collection of three fables, is preceded by a buffet dinner that begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for children.

It is one of the highlights of the school year -- a production that draws a bigger audience each time it is staged. The performances began 13 years ago when Providence was looking for a way to help his speech pupils smooth stutters and correct mispronunciations.

As word spread, other pupils and teachers expressed interest. Creighton, who teaches kindergarten, asked Providence and his pupils to perform puppet shows for her class. Soon, Providence was caught up in a drama program that no one wanted to end.

"It's so wonderful to see them up there on stage and see the self-confidence building," said Providence, who keeps photos of some of his actors in his office, which doubles as a prop room. "I think we've really got something here."

Parents -- some of whom have organized fund-raisers to benefit the theater -- are overwhelmingly supportive of Providence and his drama projects because he encourages all children to perform, even those who are shy, unruly or have learning disabilities.

"He tries to make sure each child will get a chance to be showcased," said Julie Harvin, 41, whose 10-year-old daughter Heather, a fourth-grader, plays a cat. "If you get a big part in the fall production, you get a small part in the spring production. Mr. Providence tells pupils that it's not the size of the part, but what you make of it and how you bring it alive."

Pupils savor the opportunity to show off in front of their parents and peers. "They clap and smile," 10-year-old Gregory White, a fifth-grader, said of the audience. "I get a tickle in my little tummy."

Providence asks pupils to sign a contract with him at the beginning of the year. Children promise to behave during rehearsals and keep up with their schoolwork. If they don't, they are asked to leave.

"This is a privilege," said Providence, at the end of a recent rehearsal. "Their participation has to be earned."

For more information about the Edmondson Heights Student Theatre Group or to contribute toward the purchase of a new acoustical system, call 410-887-0818.

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