Curtain set to open on fall high school plays

Senior Katie Waddel, 17, is playing Lucy in the Glenelg High School production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

She also brought her artistic skills to the production, adding large sketches of the characters to the set.

Inspired by Glenelg's theater arts teacher Susan Miller, Waddel said she hopes to be a drama teacher some day.

"It feels so cool being on stage," she said, taking a brief break during a recent after-school rehearsal. "I've got to share it with the world. It's really fun."

In high school auditoriums throughout Howard County, students are rehearsing, building sets, gathering props, figuring out lighting, reading lines to each other and conquering the myriad other details needed to bring a theatrical production to life. While actors get the (literal) spotlight, many students and teachers contribute to the final product.

Most Howard County high schools put on nonmusical plays in the fall and musicals in the spring, but theater teachers tend to be adventurous, and they continually try new things.

At Glenelg, for example, Miller is planning musicals for both the spring and fall, with a play in the middle of January.

"I like to shake it up a little bit," she said of a production schedule that changes each year.

The fall production also marks the first time students in the school's special education department are being integrated into the cast, accounting for nearly half the actors in the 60-student production.

The inclusion project, led by Miller's daughter, Beth Rosas, who works at the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, involves students in wheelchairs and with disabilities that include Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, Miller said.

"I think it's a really great statement that special education should not be separate," said Jacob Liming, 17, who plays Snoopy in the production. "We definitely made a great effort to include them in the core of the show," he said, a process that "flowed pretty easily."

At Long Reach High School, theater arts director Marla Blasko is leading a production of "Murder's in the Heir." At intermission, the audience decides by vote which of the seven suspects is the killer, and that decision changes the second half of the play.

"The cast is having a lot of fun developing the characters," she said. But since the show will only run four nights, many of the lines the students memorize will never be seen by the audience, she said.

The play is also notable because the score was composed by a student, senior Camila Agosto.

Oakland Mills students are building seating that will be placed right on the stage for their production of "Twelve Angry Jurors."

And Nathan Rosen, the theater director at Atholton High School, has chosen "Dream Girl," a play with 20 different scenes, 35 scene changes and actors playing as many as three different roles. The main character, said Rosen, is a young woman who daydreams, so the scene changes must be smooth, to represent her shifting fantasy life.

As the show dates approach, students throughout the county are rehearsing nearly every day after school, as well as weekends. On a recent sunny Sunday, sawdust covered the stage at Oakland Mills High School and the smell of fresh-cut wood filled the auditorium as the student stage crew cut wood, painted and hammered to bring the set of "Twelve Angry Jurors" to life.

"It creates new challenges but it's a learning experience for the kids," said director of theater arts Steven Fleming of the seating, which will surround the jurors' table on three sides.

Fleming teaches an introduction to drama class, as well as more advanced classes on acting and stagecraft, and he chose the play because it has "twelve really solid roles," he said. "I love the dynamics of the characters, how the characters relate to each other."

The set was designed by Emma Brand, 17, a senior, who frequently consulted her meticulous pencil drawings during an afternoon of construction. Among her challenges, she explained, she had to create a table large enough for 12 jurors, yet small enough to allow interaction and to leave room on the stage for the seating and the movement of the actors.

The color scheme of black, white and gray reflects the play's theme of ambiguity, she said.

"I think it's really awesome to just draw something and then it's there," she said. "It's weird watching it, because it was just a sketch a few months ago."

Sam Andrews, 17, is both the stage manager and lighting designer for the Oakland Mills production. The senior has also worked at Toby's Dinner Theater and done freelance lighting for local productions, he said. He's applying to colleges with technical theater programs, with the goal of becoming a professional theater technician.

Sophomore Morganne Chu, 15, was painting the seating, which will accommodate about 150 audience members. Being part of the production, she said, "was kind of challenging in the beginning of the school year, but it's getting better now."

Joseph Asiedu, 14, a freshman, was building a flat that would be painted and become part of the set's background.

"I thought it would be fun to help build stuff," he said.

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