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Dumbarton actress makes her stage presence felt

Dumbarton actress makes her stage presence felt
Pawna (played by June Keating, of Idlewylde), the wizened matriarch of the Dimmers, speaks with her son Chenzira (Jon Dallas) during rehearsal of "Electric Pharoah" staged by Baltimore Rock Opera Society. The show runs Oct. 23-26 at the Lithuanian Hall at 851-853 Hollins Street in Baltimore. (Submitted photo)

By day June Keating is a cheerful eighth-grader at Dumbarton Middle School. But for the next few weeks, she's spending her evenings inhabiting the role of an elderly woman who lives in a dystopian future.

At 13, she may be the youngest member of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society's "Electric Pharoah," but June is thrilled to be part of the futuristic sci-fi show filled with fog machines, lasers, "awesome rock music" and even 3-D glasses.

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June learned about auditions for the rock opera last summer. Bitten early by the acting bug, she signed up to try for a part. "I love acting," she said. "This is a great opportunity."

When she got a callback — "the best moment ever," she said — she was asked to read the part of the old woman. Pawna is the mother of the main character.

"I'm like the old lady everybody loves," June said. Injured early in life, Pawna has only her torso, one arm and her head, June said, so she lives inside a silvery machine strung with wires. June describes her costume as a "Jiffy Pop bag."

"It's really, really cool," she added.

She is one of two teens in the cast. Griffin Stanbro, who lives in Fells Point and attends Baltimore School for the Arts, is part of the ensemble. He has participated in two other Baltimore Rock Opera Society productions, according to Shannon Hadley, the company's marketing director.

Anyone is welcome to audition for a part in one of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society's all-volunteer productions, according to Hadley. "It's truly a positive environment of collaboration," she said. And it's a learning experience for younger actors, she said. "They get to see how collaborative people can be through all the stages in their life."

Hadley said June has been impressing the cast since her first reading. "And then I saw her act. And then I heard her sing. She's beautiful," she said. "That girl's going to be a powerhouse some day."

Originally June's part was only a speaking role, but after rehearsals began, a song was written for her character. "It was so cool knowing I had a song," said June, who sings with the Peabody Children's Chorus.

June, who just won the role of Romeo in this year's play at Dumbarton Middle, has been treading the boards since she had a part in a local production at the age of 7. She's acted in productions with the Woodbrook Players at Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church on Charles Street — some with members of her family — as well as her own school plays. She acted in a production of "A Christmas Carol" with her brother, Avery Keating, 10. The Stoneleigh Elementary student had the role of Tiny Tim.

She's even gotten a small part in a movie by Hagerstown filmmaker Erik Kristopher Myers. "I'm in a movie and I'm not allowed to know what it's called," she said, adding that the character's name is Scout.

"June has wonderful energy, and the camera loves her," Myers said in an email. He explained that the film is still in its early stages and its title is not yet locked down.

Growing up in an arts-loving family, June is the daughter of Aimee Freeman and Jim Freeman of Idlewylde. June thinks she caught theater fever from her grandfather, Michael Keating, of Lauraville. Keating, who is now retired, was active in community theater for many years and had parts in two John Waters movies, including "Cry Baby."

"Grandpa was a big inspiration for me," June said.

Rehearsals for "Electric Pharoah" began in July but by mid-October had gotten intense with rehearsals on weekends and nearly every weeknight in the days leading up to opening night.

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June said she has been thrilled to be part of a cast of professionals. "I like being treated as a professional," she said. "The Baltimore Rock Opera Society, they embrace people's talents and their strengths."

They do make allowances for the teenager so she can finish her homework during rehearsals and let her go early when a run-through is running late, she added.

All that acting has set June on a path toward more acting. She's planning to apply to the Baltimore School for the Arts where she would like to study theater.

"I'm going to be an actress when I grow up," June said. "Definitely."

Electric Pharoah is playing Oct. 23, 24, 25 and 26 at the Lithuanian Hall at 851-853 Hollins Street in Baltimore before going to Washington for three performances and Philadelphia for three performances.

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