Annapolis theater group offers creative outlet for kids

Children's Theatre of Annapolis to feature 'A Night at the Wax Museum' through April 17

April 08, 2011|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

On stage, Maddie Poole's attitude is fierce, stomping around in high heels, a leopard print dress and heavy makeup, and speaking with a commanding voice that carries across the auditorium.

But backstage, still in makeup but wearing a hooded sweat shirt and no longer in the heels, her posture has eased, her voice is softer and she's dropped the scowl for a smile.

"My character is awful. She's an awful person," the 14-year-old said during a recent rehearsal at the Children's Theatre of Annapolis. "I had to get this confident, arrogant walk" to prepare for her character in the group's spring production of "A Night at the Wax Museum," which runs through April 17. In the play, a group of children who failed history class must take a summer school field trip to a wax museum, where figures such as Henry the VIII, Cleopatra, pirates and others come alive through Cleopatra's bracelet.

Violet Sneed, Maddie's "awful" character, is supposed to inherit the museum building from her grandfather; she wants to turn it into a mall. After three years with the nonprofit children's theater group, Maddie says she's learned how to evoke her character, who, she assures, is nothing like her.

Her time with the Children's Theatre has given her the confidence to try out for productions at Broadneck High School, where she is a freshman.

"It really does amazing things for these kids and their self-image," said Sue Konick, one of 23 board members of Children's Theatre and parent volunteer who is a co-producer of the show. She added that many other skills carry over into adult life, even if the kids don't continue in theater. They learn poise, auditioning skills and how to carry themselves, she said backstage during a rehearsal last week.

The nonprofit "works really hard to teach these kids about the basics of theater," said Jose de la Mar, one of the show's two directors. "There should be more opportunities — there are very few places like this," he said.

The group has had three-a-week rehearsals of the slapstick musical for the past two months. This past week, they had three-hour tech rehearsals every day to prepare for opening night.

For the more experienced actors, the tech rehearsals are a time to polish their performance.

Sitting backstage, Henry the VIII sat scanning lines in his playbook, while Cleopatra watched the scuffle on stage between the wax characters and the students.

When Butch Cassidy and several other bandits went onstage shouting "yeehaws" and firing their guns at the beginning of a fight scene, lights went out as a few adjustments were made. Again, starting the scene, the bandits enter, and de la Mar reminded them, "Guys, it's a fight scene. Use your voices," causing an eruption of screams and yelps on stage.

Occasionally, there were pauses to recall lines, and de la Mar had to remind the kids to face the audience, not the other characters as they spoke.

Right before an expected kissing scene, he told them to "stop laughing."

De la Mar, who has directed other theater groups in the area, said he likes working with children because "the kids who do CTA are all really excited."

He said about 100 turned out for auditions, which required singing, dancing and reading from a script for the musical with its 30 cast members ages 8 to 15. The nonprofit puts together three major shows a year and offers different workshops for kids to hone their acting skills.

The group of volunteers has been putting together productions and teaching kids not only acting, but makeup, script reading and behind the scenes work, such as how equipment is operated, for 51 years.

Andrew Lincoln, who began performing with the group at 15, has since returned after graduating from college to serve as the musical director. "The cliche thing is to say I am giving back," he said, "but I'd like to help the program sustain itself."

He helped the kids learn the music. "We first rehearse with plunking out the music on the piano," he said. "It's really fascinating to see them develop the fundamentals of music."

Konick said many of the kids come back after college. "They take over. It's wonderful to see that happen." Her two sons got involved when they were in elementary school. The oldest one is now studying vocal performance at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her younger son, Josh, will be going off to college next year but is a stagehand for this production.

"Our story is very common here at CTA," Konick said, where kids get involved and parents follow, dedicating numerous hours to help find props, make costumes and other jobs.

On Wednesday, she brought a couple extra backpacks for props and helped push Cleopatra out on stage, riding a large papier-mache elephant.

Performing "really does amazing things for these kids," Konick said.

After the rehearsal ran past 10 p.m., Mariel White, 15, who plays the class teacher Ms. Fairchild, described herself before joining the troupe. "I was pretty shy — I was the kid that was nice, but shy."

But now, she had no trouble projecting her voice through the auditorium and carrying herself as an adult. "A Night at the Wax Museum" will be her sixth play.

While her confidence and posture has improved after several productions, she said on opening night "there will be some jitters, but not a lot. … I say that now," she laughs.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

If you go

Time: 2 p.m., Sunday, April 10; 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 15; 2 & 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 16; 2 p.m., April 17

Tickets: $15 for adults, $12 for kids 12 and under and seniors 60 and over. Group rate of $12 for 20 or more attending on the same date, at the same time.

Information: childrenstheatreofannapolis.org

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