By Molly Weeks Crumbley
All the world’s a stage…or it soon will be for the kids of Calvert County.
Without a dedicated performing arts space, Calvert County is an area that has largely been limited in its performing arts experiences for residents. This is even truer for children who want to tread the boards.
While the county is home to two active community theater groups—the Twin Beach Players in North Beach and New Direction Community Theater in St. Leonard—not all of the performances have roles for children. Often, theater kids interested in getting involved in drama outside of the school system had to either wait for a once-a-year summer camp or make the trek to neighboring counties to perform.
The newly founded Children’s Theatre of Southern Maryland hopes to change that by providing a company designed specifically for youth. President and Artistic Director Bill Righter, who previously produced the children’s performing group Encore Kids in Charles County, wanted to find a way to increase performing arts opportunities for youngsters in the wake of the isolation of the pandemic.
“I felt there was a real need for a dedicated community theater option specifically dedicated to the youth of our area that would not only give them a performance option but take it one step further and offer year-round educational courses that would help them with all aspects of the theater arts experience,” Righter explains. “There wasn’t a person who we approached about our idea that didn’t say we’ve been waiting for something just like your idea. We knew there was a want and a real need for our program. So we took the ball and ran with it.”
Aly Cross, vice president and volunteer coordinator for CTSMD, agrees wholeheartedly with Righter’s vision. “I find myself here in my dream job of not only continuing to teach and direct, but to actually have a hand in creating a children’s theater company that is designed specifically for kids who have not otherwise been given an opportunity to ‘do theater’ outside of school productions.”
Audra Vernier, president of the Twin Beach Players, agrees that participating in the arts can have many benefits for children, sometimes in ways that extend beyond the stage.
“There is a definite benefit socially. Like-minded kids frequently become best friends at the club. We have seen shy kids blossom in our productions where it has built their confidence,” says Vernier.
Though not all of their productions have roles for children, the Twin Beach Players make efforts to include younger performers and technical crew whenever possible. The company is currently in rehearsals for an all-teen murder mystery production, The Alibis, which will run June 17 through 26. In addition, they host an annual Kid’s Playwriting Festival which highlights short pieces written and performed by children. This year’s KPF will have performances each weekend from August 12-21. At the end of the year, their holiday production of A Christmas Carol will include many acting opportunities for young thespians.
New Direction Community Theater also makes a point of including youth performers each year. As their website advertises, “Along with traditional shows, we offer one children’s show annually for our young actors and audiences.” This year’s show will be an October production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Both groups are leading the campaign to create a performing arts alliance and dedicated performance space in Prince Frederick.
Elsewhere in the county, aspiring performers can find many summer camp opportunities to explore the world of theater.
At Calverton’s annual Summer Adventures Broadway Camp, participants will spend two weeks mounting a production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jr. Performances will be at Calverton School at 1:30 pm and 6:30 pm on July 28. “I have been directing the Broadway camp at Calverton Summer Adventures for 10 years,” shares Katie Evans. “I keep coming back because of the wonder in each kid’s eyes that they were able to accomplish a full-scale production in less than two weeks.” All children ages 8 to 14 are welcome to register. “Campers will work with a professional production staff: director, music director, choreographer, technical designer, and costume designer. The daily schedule includes one class each of singing, dancing, and acting, followed by an afternoon of production crews in prop making, set painting, costumes, publicity, and crafts.”
The Children’s Theatre of Southern Maryland will launch their first show, Disney’s Newsies Jr. June 30, as part of their inaugural Summer Production Camp. Cross serves as the show director. “Our campers, both performing and technical, will experience two weeks of intensive dance, vocal, acting, and technical theater rotations throughout each day,” she says. In addition to the full-day camp for performers, there is also a half-day option for campers who want to work on the backstage and technical elements of the show. CTSMD also has a special volunteer program (The Captains) for teenagers and young adults who want to build their theatrical experience while working with experienced teaching artists.
“Every time a young person comes away from a performing arts experience, they are changed,” says Cross. “And after living through these past two years of extremely limited opportunity for expression, this is something that the kids need now more than ever.”
The Calverton School Summer Adventures Broadway Camp
Children’s Theatre of Southern Maryland
New Direction Community Theater
Twin Beach Players