On the Job
Jackie Waymire, Children’s Theater Impresario
by Dotty Holcomb Doherty
In a many-windowed room at Calvert County’s King’s Landing Park, where Jackie Waymire has worked as a ranger for 10 years, she offers her visitor peppermint tea selected at Fabulous Brew in Deale, where she does an early morning shift as barista. Long before Waymire draws her first shot of espresso, by 5am, she is writing and editing scripts for another job, the one she loves best: impresario of children’s theater.
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“Can you put a little more roguishness on that? You’re too refined,” Waymire tells Blake Bryant, a senior at Northern High School. Rehearsal for Chesapeake Youth Players’ Prisoner of Zenda is underway; it’s two weeks to production. Bryant adds swagger to his Rudolph.
Moving among actors aged six through 20, Waymire harmonizes with the chorus in a bawdy tavern song, hops through a mazurka, shows a barmaid how to sashay.
“You do that too well, Jackie,” says one.
“That’s because I play a wench at RenFest!” Waymire retorts.
Blossoming on Stage
Waymire calls herself a country bumpkin from a Calvert County farm, but Christmas trips to Constitution Hall to see The Nutcracker burned theater lights into her memory.
She took to the stage at church, singing in a folk group and acting in Christmas plays. As a mother, she introduced her older son and daughter to acting at Sunday school. In 1996, working as recreation coordinator for Calvert County Parks, Waymire found her calling.
A youth theater course offered on whim drew 54. Chesapeake Youth Players was born. Over 10 years, 107 young players have joined.
In Waymire’s company, any kid who wants to be on stage goes on stage. The most dedicated are encouraged to try for leads. Rewarded for commitment, many find talent they’d never imagined.
“I’ve seen the shyest kids blossom on stage,” says Waymire, who works as director, playwright, choreographer, stage manager and musical director. “All they need is the chance.”
And the skills. The Youth Players study culture, history and social etiquette as well as acting, dancing and singing. From costuming and props to working as stage managers, musicians, techs and directors, Waymire’s kids learn theater’s many roles.
“I like what I am learning here,” says Kayla Thomas, a seventh grader at Northern Middle School and veteran of three Chesapeake Youth Players productions who aspires to an acting career. “And I really like the dancing.”
Money is rarely an issue, never a barrier. Chesapeake Youth Players charges no membership fee. Waymire avoids royalty costs by using traditional scripts in the public domain, or by writing her own. Expenses are minimal, usually about $100; earnings are donated to community causes.
The More, the Merrier
To challenge the older actors, Waymire in 2004 founded Chesapeake Theatre Company, which she runs as a professional company.
“You can become a member only if you have been referred by the members,” Waymire says. “A certain behavior is expected. If you do not attend rehearsals, the company will decide whether you continue with the show.”
Following the bard’s footsteps, the company has regaled audiences with Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor and a Waymire-written satire, Hamlet Laughing. Joining their younger and adult cohorts, the actors performed in Prisoner of Zenda and with Waymire’s other two groups: The Scurvy Crew and Sojourner Band.
The Scurvy Crew sprouted five years ago at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Watching pirate groups, Waymire decided, We can do that.
Each member takes on a famous pirate persona, preserving a piece of maritime history as they tell their tales, heckle the audience and each other, sing lusty songs and tell corny jokes.
“These tend to be the cream of the crop,” says Waymire of the auditioned Scurvy Crew. “They are the most versatile musically and theatrically. It requires audience participation, so they have to be quick on their feet.”
You’ll feel the decades melt away when you enter a concert by the third of Waymire’s creations, Sojourner Band. Two years ago, Waymire pulled together an eclectic group of jazz, blues, rock and bluegrass musicians, aged high school through adults. These musicians, plus the youth company actors, immerse audiences in the rock concert experience: Hippies greet you at the door with anti-war posters. Overhead, a PowerPoint presentation replays images of the ’60s and ’70s. A band of acoustic guitars renders Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” as a huge flag descends from the ceiling.
Their jamming benefit concerts raise money for high school arts programs. Sojourner concerts helped Northern Calvert’s performing arts center The Mary D. Harrison Cultural Arts Center, on the Northern High School campus in Owings replace worn curtains and upgrade the sound system.
Performing for the community for the love of theater, Waymire’s companies have raised over $20,000 in the last three years.
“We fix things,” says Waymire. “We come in and give money.”
The actors are winners, too. Tackling Shakespeare and learning the realities of the theater life, high school actors rise to new heights of self-esteem and confidence. Many make honor roll because they’ve learned feats of memory.
Five of seven 2006 company graduates study performing arts in college. Many study on scholarships earned by their professional bearing and knowledge of theater. Alumni return to the companies during breaks.
This summer’s show, The Tempest, is the project of two alumni. Bart Dunn, studying to become a music director and composer at Towson University, has written the score. Actor and Scurvy crewman Mark Celeste, who will transfer to Penn State this fall to be closer to the Calvert theater, is co-director.
Two other alumni have joined forces to take over directing the Chesapeake Youth Players. Jimmy Humphreys, age 22, and Ben Krause, 19 and a member of Scurvy Crew, jump in this summer with Roving the Great Wide Road, written by Waymire, to promote reading and our country’s storybook legends.
“It’s not what I had to teach,” says Waymire. “It’s just a love, a passion they have. I give them a space and I give them some ideas and they give me some ideas, and together we produce a show. As a result, we get very close to each other.”
Those ties hold strong in good times and bad.
The Legacies of Youth
On a trail at King’s Landing Park, the lifting fog revealed the handiwork of dedicated young people: an equipment shed turned woodland cottage; a rock with arrows to Padua and Messina from last summer’s Much Ado About Nothing; benches built by Eagle Scouts, who also raised a flat, earthen base for the group’s woodland amphitheater.
Overlooking the amphitheater is a dedication garden and a statue adorned with fresh flowers.
The Shy One, as it is called, is dedicated to 15-year-old Mary Gretschel, who credited Waymire’s troupes with overcoming her shyness.
Gretschel died suddenly one evening at home, after a seemingly ordinary illness, moments before a theatre company rehearsal.
As news of Gretschel’s death spread, Waymire recalls, “the entire company showed up. Kids came home from college. Kids who didn’t know the present group sent their regards.”
Gretschel’s early work on the Woodland Amphitheater led to several thousand dollars in donations in her name to continue the project. Shakespeare’s The Tempest plays at the Woodland Amphitheater this summer, followed by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in the fall.
The Show Goes On
“There’s always a show in my family,” says Waymire, who brings her work home with her.
She and husband Randy married in a medieval ceremony. Her grandsons debuted as hobbits this winter. Her oldest daughter, Shilo, acts along with the grandkids, while son-in-law Dave plays lead guitar in the Sojourner Band. Son Jimmy, an executive chef in Pennsylvania, returns for shows; his wife Keri joins in on flute. Daughter Emilie, performing with Chesapeake Youth Players since she was six, is now studying classical acting in college.
Randy, retired from the Naval Research Lab, would like to see his wife slow down now that their kids are grown. It’s a lot, those 2,000-plus hours she volunteers to children’s theater each year.
He can make his wish upon a star, but it’s unlikely to come true.
“I’ll think, Oh, that’d make a nice show,” Waymire says, “and I begin typing away.”
Join the Chesapeake Theater Company in the next show, Songs from the Woods, a traditional May Day celebration complete with barnyard animals, frivolity and festive foods. 3pm Sun., April 29, at the Woodland Amphitheater, Kings Landing Park. Free: 410-535-2661.
Dotty Holcomb Doherty of Annapolis is a regular contributor to Bay Weekly, specializing in birds and children. Her last story (Vol. xv, No. 11: March 15) celebrated the return of osprey to Chesapeake Country.