School is out for the summer, but that doesn't mean every high school theater stage is dark. The stage is lit and also filled with teen talent at Reservoir High School in Fulton, which serves as the site for the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts' Teen Professional Theatre production of the musical "Children of Eden" from July 26- 29.
Doing an annual summer musical production is but one aspect of the center's year-round educational activities for students ages 13 to 21.
"We're a training ground for kids who go on to study in college and have careers," says Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts executive director Melissa Rosenberg.
Alumni including Columbia-bred actor Edward Norton attest to the worth of the center founded 40 years ago by Toby Orenstein, who continues as its artistic director.
Featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by John Caird, "Children of Eden" dips into the Book of Genesis for its interpretations of stories about such archetypal figures as Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah.
A musical tale of biblical dimensions requires a lot of people on stage, which is not a problem for this summer theater program. There are 42 actors in the cast. Also, double casting for the major roles allows an increased number of actors to tackle these parts. And then there are the lifesize puppets that make for a very full population on stage.
Participating in such large-scale musicals is a tradition for many local teens. Many of the cast members in "Children of Eden" performed in last summer's production of "Aida," for instance, and so they constitute a theatrical family of sorts.
Theater is literally a family affair for Columbia residents Ada and Adam Satterfield, who appear in separate casts in "Children of Eden." Ada, 18, who plays Noah's wife, graduated from Wilde Lake High School this year and will be studying vocal performance at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., this fall. Her 17-year-old brother, Adam, who plays Cain, is a rising senior at Wilde Lake High School.
"I'm able to put most of my focus on the music and script. I don't have to deal with homework," Ada says about this summer theater program. As for playing the middle-aged wife of Noah, this young adult actor notes that in her personal life "there are definitely a lot of times I play the mother to people who are my age or younger than me."
Playing biblically inspired characters isn't quite the same as preparing for most theatrical roles, as Adam acknowledges when he discusses how he prepared to portray this musical's version of Cain: "With Cain, for me, it's such a powerful role. It's more than just a sinister character. He's not intentionally evil. It's different from Genesis, where Cain was purely spiteful. This Cain is misunderstood.
"Cain is 17 and has been contemplating leaving his home for awhile. He is very frustrated. He's near maturity, but not there yet," Adam says of a character who is exactly his own age.
This brother and sister say they benefit from their shared involvement in theater. They recall a high school production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe" in which they got to sing a duet for the song "Stand By Me." Adam says that being in the same productions with his older sister "is great. We can work together. Because of my sister, I was interested in singing. I'd hear her sing."
Others in the "Children of Eden" cast also love going to school (or at least a school's theater) on summer days.
"Everybody doing this loves it, so it's definitely not a burden. I look forward to doing it every summer," says Columbia resident Spencer Franco, 17, a rising senior at Atholton High School who plays Abel. "I admire the professional quality. I get to work with people who want to do this as a living."
They enjoy the challenge of playing ancient characters whose dramatic situations, to put it mildly, don't always match up with what today's teens typically experience in Howard County.
"I play Yonah, the servant girl for Noah's family," says Columbia resident Monica Albizo, 16, a rising junior at Wilde Lake High School. "She is one of the meekest people. She's from a 'tainted race' and does not think highly of herself."
And then there's Noah himself, whose ark-building and animal-collecting project is on behalf of saving not just his own family but all of humanity.
"I love creating a character. With Noah, you do get the biblical references, but they don't give any back stories," remarks Sam Kobren, an 18-year-old Clarksville resident who graduated this year from Atholton High School. "Noah is a regular guy with a huge responsibility. He just happened to be chosen to build the Ark, but he's pretty stubborn" and gets the job done.
As for the challenge of an 18-year-old actor playing a middle-aged father figure, Kobren says that in "playing him at 50 I use more diction and a speaking tone that a father would use to admonish a child. They also said to grow my own beard, but that didn't work out."
Assuming Noah survives the flood, Kobren will be majoring in theater at Marymount Manhattan College this fall. He's excited as he talks about how much he's looking forward to the diversity of people he'll be meeting in college. Pausing for a moment, he adds: "And it's in New York City!"
Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts' Teen Professional Theatre performs "Children of Eden" July 26, 27 and 28 at 7 p.m. and July 28 and 29 at 2:30 p.m. at Reservoir High School, 11550 Scaggsville Road in Fulton. Tickets are $15, $10 for students and seniors, $22.50 for reserved seats. Call 410-381-0700 or go to http://www.CCTArts.com.