Chapelgate Academy's drama program just keeps chugging along

In previous columns, I have mentioned how fortunate we are to live in an area with such fine high school theater productions. Some in the community may not realize that these quality performances take place in both the public and private schools and the latter manage to excel despite facing obstacles that their public counterparts do not. Pat Bonnell, the drama and studio arts teacher at Chapelgate Christian Academy, affectionately describes her theater program as "the little engine that could."

Readers may recall that I was unable to publicize CCA's spring play by name because the school's contractual agreement with Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization officials as they forbade off-campus advertising. Now that the production has ended — it ran March 23-25 — I can reveal that the school performed "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which is based upon the biblical story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.

For many years, Bonnell has longed to perform this musical, but her main impediment has been a lack of male performers. Although she could have cast girls in the male roles, Joseph and his 11 brothers are clearly more authentic as, well – boys! This year, Bonnell felt that she had enough actors to carry the play, but even so, she had to fill some supporting roles with CCA staff and family members. Since the school population totals around 300 students in grades 9-12 (Marriotts Ridge High School, by comparison, has more than 1,200 students), casting can be a challenge.

Chapelgate has limited resources for drama productions, so the school typically performs only one play per year. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the set. Since the school has no indoor area large enough for construction, students, parents, and staff build the set outside.

Keep in mind that the spring musical takes place in March, so set construction occurs during the coldest part of winter. Remember Snowmaggedon 2010? Bonnell said that she nearly gave up as the blizzards repeatedly crushed their set for The Sound of Music. However, the students' determination kept her going, and they ultimately rebuilt the set in time for their production that year.

Even after successfully completing a set, the students cannot install it until the week of their performance since the "stage" is also the place where parishioners of Chapelgate Presbyterian Church worship every Sunday morning. As a result, the cast has just a few days in which to rehearse with the set.

Chapelgate works hard to put on a professional show despite these logistical stumbling blocks, yet sometimes its productions still get overlooked. For instance, last year Glenelg High School was billed as the first high school in the county to perform "Les Miserables," but Chapelgate had already presented "Les Miz" in 2009. As a private, religious school, Chapelgate does not have access to the same channels and funding as the public schools, but Bonnell explains, "We love the arts here and take them very seriously." This year, Chapelgate was especially proud of its production because it boasted an element unavailable at any other school: the original coat used in the very first U.S. theater production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat!"

Now we get to the explanation of why Bonnell has been so eager to produce this musical. Her sister, Judith Dolan, is a Tony award-winning costume designer who, at the beginning of her career, created Joseph's coat for the 1979-1980 production of "Joseph" at Ford's Theater in Washington. The play next opened off-Broadway in 1981 and then on Broadway in 1982, starring such notables as David Cassidy and Andy Gibb. (As an aside, Dolan also designed the Broadway coat, and Elizabeth Taylor, who was in the audience on opening night, was so enamored with it that she requested – and received – a duplicate.)

Bonnell earned free tickets to one of the Ford's Theater performances as payment for macraméing the actors' costume necklaces and she remembers that first, low-budget production as being "very uplifting, funny, creative, and something I'd want to see again." Since that time, she has stored the original Joseph's coat in her basement, waiting for an opportunity to use it.

Of course, after more than 30 years in storage, the coat has begun showing its age, so Bonnell had to make a few repairs, disguise a little dry rot, and add a number of sequins to help the garment "pop" for the Chapelgate production. Even after this "facelift," however, the coat remained too fragile to use throughout the performance. Bonnell compromised by saving the original coat for the play's finale and asking her students to craft another out of muslin. The end result was a brilliant new garment that paid homage to the original while still radiating its own personality.

In this year's playbill, Bonnell described the many different coats of Joseph – from the biblical one to the one created at Chapelgate – in terms of threads and "ties that bind." Separate, yet related, these coats weave across time and space to tell a tale of jealousy, love, and forgiveness.

Bonnell sees the link between art and faith as the strength behind the school's drama program and describes the students simply as "having heart." She says that there is "a glow coming from 2600 Marriottsville Road because we simply can't hide our candle under a bushel."

To learn more about Chapelgate Christian Academy, go to

Calling all gardeners! Springtime means that the Howard County Conservancy once again needs volunteers to help maintain the site's thematic and native plant gardens. These efforts take place on a drop-in basis every Wednesday morning at 9:30, weather permitting. All experience levels are welcome. If you can help or would like more information, email, or call 410-465-8877.

One can find local wine festivals nearly every weekend in May, with the first one scheduled for our neck of the woods on Sunday, May 6. Just head over to the Sykesville 2012 Fine Art & Wine Festival on Main Street from 12-5 p.m. Spend a relaxing afternoon sipping local wines and brews while perusing juried artwork and listening to live music. The S&P model train display will be open, as will the Main Street shops and restaurants.

Parking is plentiful and free at South Branch Park, located on the Howard County side of the river. For directions or additional information, go to, or contact Main Street Manager Ivy Wells at or 410-795-8959.

"You definitely know someone." Someone who has positively impacted the lives of local residents, that is. Every year since 1975, the Association of Community Services has honored exemplary Howard County individuals and organizations with the prestigious Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Award, named for a former director of the Howard County Department of Social Services. The ACS website describes the award as recognizing "volunteers and staff who go above and beyond all expectations in their service to the Howard County community."

And you definitely know someone – that is the theme for this year's awards, which coincide with ACS's 50th anniversary celebration. Who has made life better for you or others in the county? Show your appreciation by nominating this person or group for the Audrey Robbins Humanitarian award. Forms can be found online at and are due tomorrow, Friday, April 27.

Recipients of the award will be honored at a luncheon on June 20. ACS seeks sponsors for the event, with opportunities ranging from $100-$5,000. Proceeds will help support the local human services community. Go to the above website for a sponsorship form, and make sure to return it by Monday, May 14.

Questions? Email, or call 410-715-9545.

This Saturday, April 28, marks the first community yard sale at the West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department. The sale will take place in the parking lot behind the station, which is located at the corner of Old Frederick Road (Route 99) and Sykesville Road (Route 32). Stop by between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.; no earlybirds, please. In case of rain, the date will change to Saturday, May 5.

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