Volume 12, Issue 37 ~ September 9-15, 2004
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Bay Life

Kids Take a Bow
It’s Youth’s Season, Too, in Chesapeake Country
by Carrie Steele

photo courtesy of Chesapeake Youth Players
Chesapeake Youth Players add musical flair to their outdoor theater.
Chesapeake Youth Players
“We travel the globe a bit”…

With stories of Asia, instruments from Europe and dancing from South America, Chesapeake Youth Players is the United Nations of youth theater.

“We travel the globe a bit,” says Jackie Waymeir, founder, director and often playwright of Calvert County’s Chesapeake Youth Players. “We’ve done Arabian Nights, for example, where the kids actually learned Arabian dancing.”

Not only are their plays internationally flavored, so is their music: “We’ve had bagpipers and luteists in the past,” says Waymeir.

This November it’s Carmen that will transport you to the 1830s’ Spanish California. Instead of taking place in a cigarette factory, Waymeir’s adapted the story to a fishing village. The Youth Players’ version of Carmen has just two songs from the original opera, but more music from other shows. You’ll also see Spanish flamenco dancing and hear Spanish guitar.

Currently 65 kids aged nine to 17 are signed on to perform with the Youth Players’ shows, which range from Player’s spin-off The Scurvy Crew’s pirate production with acapella Celtic songs, to the classic ye olde England of The Christmas Carol.

Clearly, Waymeir likes shows that can be adapted to the Youth Players.

“I write all the shows to fit the cast and incorporate as many kids as I can,” she says. “Sometimes that means creating more parts for village people.”

Youth Players also pick shows that they can learn from.

“We learn history, culture, music. We often perform at War of 1812 reenactments, which helps hone character skills and teach what place is like,” says Waymeir.

Youth Players’ shows always involve music and dance, as well as acting: “If you can do all three, that’s what we call a ‘triple threat,’” says Waymeir, whose Youth Players’ alumni often go on to study theater.

This summer, she also worked with Calvert County libraries to write a fairy tales show, in which she included a French version of Cinderella and an Arabian Ali Babba and the Not Quite 40 Thieves.

Shakespeare, however, she lets shine on his own, she says, “We don’t mess with Willy.”

The Youth Players performed A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream this summer, but have also conquered Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet.

“Kids are nuts about Shakespeare,” Waymeir says. “Whenever we do summer Shakespeare, they just eat it up.”

photo courtesy of The Talent Machine Co.
Kids learn emotion behind the script at the Talent Machine.
The Talent Machine Company
Bringing Chesapeake Country family entertainment musicals that nurture young performers …

Talent Machine’s youth theater is the nursery for future actors and actresses, bringing to Chesapeake Country family entertainment musicals that nurture young performers.

Shows by Talent Machine turn their musicals into lessons that teach kids acting, costuming, emotions behind scripts, new dance styles and even history. The semi-historical musical Pippin, performed in August, introduced students to a new Fosse-style of dance and expanded their minds into new ways of thinking and acting. For Crofton Middle School’s 42nd Street — which Talent Machine produced under contract — executive director Lea Capps had 110 kids tap dancing.

They like shows with big casts, and they like to give their regular players new challenges.

“We have a pretty good influx of the same kids, so we try to pick new styles for the kids to learn,” says Capps.

Talent Machine selects shows that are appropriate for kids’ stamina and abilities. Even shows like the school version of Les Miserables put such a demand on kids’ vocal chords, says Capps, that the company would have to limit its show dates or double-cast each part to produce it. Physically and psychologically, they don’t want to push their young actors past their limits.

The youth theater excludes certain musicals because of content. You won’t see the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas on this stage, despite its popularity, says Capps.

“We try to be as Disneyesque as we can be,” she says.

For some shows, however, the director can modify words or phrases to ensure a PG-equivalent, non-offensive program.

Stage requirements sometimes limit their sets, which must be either brought or rolled on-stage. Their stage at St. John’s College prohibits open flames, so props might also require modification.

They open the 2004–’05 season with their annual holiday show, which regularly sells out its 12 show dates and changes slightly each year, though the storyline stays much the same.

“We try to incorporate multi-religious themes,” says Capps. “Not just Santa and his reindeer.”

Children’s Theatre of Annapolis
“Everyone gets a chance to shine, even if just for a moment” …

Musical theater is the fare on Children’s Theatre of Annapolis’s stage.

“We always do musical theater,” says producer Debbie Engler. “We feel the kids have the talent to be in musicals.”

Musicals allow for different kids’ talents, says Martha Gardener, producer for Children’s Theatre. “Kids with great voices audition, and we also get kids who are more dance-oriented.”

In choosing which musicals make up a season, Children’s Theatre looks at past recommendations and plays they’ve reviewed.

And they look at what’s appropriate. “Grease doesn’t carry the best message for children to be doing,” says Gardener.

Though they can only afford two shows a year now, the Children’s Theatre is on the brink of breaking ground on a new million-dollar theater, located just across the Bay Bridge on the Eastern Shore. They’ve already raised $500,000 for the construction and are close to seeing vision turn to reality.

With the new theater, “I think we’ll be able to expand the number of shows we do each year,” says Gardener.

This March, the younger of the actors and actresses bring The Wizard of Oz to Anne Arundel Community College’s Pascal Center stage.

“It’s such a popular show, and we wanted to have something classic for this our 45th anniversary of Children’s Theatre of Annapolis,” says Engler.

And this year there’s more in store.

“We’re now having one show a year signed for the hearing impaired,” says Steve Hammond of Children’s Theatre of Annapolis. “For Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, we had two people signing, and we got a wonderful response.”

Another change is bringing more diversity to the youth theater.

For years, they’ve had gaggles of girls audition for shows but few boys, so they were limited to productions with more parts for girls than boys.

For Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, last December’s show, the tides changed.

“I didn’t believe the number of boys who auditioned,” says Gardener. “Since we had so many boys audition, we wanted to find a show that could maintain the boys’ interest in theater.”

So for this December, Guys and Dolls was selected both for its large cast and its roles for both males and females.

“We choose shows that everyone can have a moment to sparkle,” says Gardener. “Throughout the show, everyone gets a chance to shine, even if just for a moment.”

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.