One performer was Carole Graham Lehane, now 51, who said Orenstein recruited her after seeing her perform at age 13 in a Prince George’s County summer theater production. “Toby came in, and she invited several actors from that production to be part of a class,” said Lehane, who has been performing arts chair at Glenelg Country School since 1998. Orenstein, who still lived in Montgomery County at the time, would drive Lehane and other students to classes in Columbia.

Lehane was the youngest in the class and the youngest in the first group of Young Columbians, experiences she described as “transformative.”  With the Young Columbians, she started out just dancing, with no singing role, but Orenstein eventually gave her more responsibility, she said. “She kept giving me chances, and through that I really learned to risk and trust myself.”

“We would land on stage or we’d go to a Hilton downtown for a convention or something, and there would be some strange thing we’d need to adapt to,” she recalled. “That idea of being able to go anywhere and adapt to the situation and continue to tell the story was one of her important ideas.” (Another connection: Lehane is also the daughter of William H. Graham, who was the head of the drama department at Catholic University and who hired Orenstein, who taught there for many years.)

Ric Ryder, 50, with Broadway performances in “Grease!” and “The Music Man” on his resume, was also in the Young Columbians. “It was a great training ground,” he said. “What we really had to do was be very, very, very adaptable because we were always playing different venues.”

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The lessons imparted by Orenstein remain important to him. “She’s all about connecting,” he said. “Connecting to the people you’re singing for.”

Said Orenstein: “That’s what my credo is. Tell the story, and find the heart in the story.” 

A mission to inspire

CCTA is now run by executive director Melissa Woodring Rosenberg, who joined CCTA as a part-time development director in 2003. In 2011, CCTA served 26,000 children, including 2,700 low-income and special-needs children through outreach programs in Baltimore City and Howard County. CCTA also awarded $23,000 in scholarships for students who otherwise would not be able to afford the classes, she said.

CCTA has three components: a conservatory that provides performing arts camps, workshops and classes; a theater production division that takes performances to schools in the region; and an outreach program that brings theater education and performances to underserved children.

The thread that weaves these three components together is Orenstein’s belief in connecting with children through dramatic arts. For about 15 years, starting in 1990, Orenstein offered a program called Labels, which guided students as they wrote and performed plays on topics of importance to them, such as bullying. Also, since 2004, more than 15,000 students in Baltimore public schools have seen the CCTA production of the “Ben Carson Project,” which CCTA provides free of charge, even providing transportation and copies of the renowned pediatric neurosurgeon’s autobiography to participating schools.

Orenstein, in her ongoing role as artistic director for CCTA, “volunteers her time and never has taken money for it,” said Rosenberg. “This is her love. She’s a wonderful teacher, and she loves kids. It’s really a joy to watch her direct kids.”

The Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts is celebrating 40 years since its founding with a gala
April 30 at 5:30 p.m. at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Baltimore.

An original production highlighting CCTA’s achievements, featuring past and current students, will begin at 7:30 p.m. The event will benefit the CCTA. For more information or to buy tickets, call CCTA at 410-381-0700 or e-mail