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Sophie Quickel, Taj Sterner, Compton Little and others perform a scene during a dress rehearsal of "Once Upon a Leprechaun" at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster Monday.
Sophie Quickel, Taj Sterner, Compton Little and others perform a scene during a dress rehearsal of "Once Upon a Leprechaun" at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster Monday. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

St. Patrick's Day may have been last week, but the Carroll Arts Council is continuing its celebration of Irish pride and folklore this weekend with its production of "Once Upon a Leprechaun," written by Patrick Rainville Dorn.

The show, featuring a cast of 57 children from second- to fifth-graders, depicts the story of an Irishman who befriends three leprechauns in order to learn how to tell a compelling story. The actors then perform each of the leprechauns' stories: "The Hunchback of Knockgrafton," "The Griffin's Feather" and "The Bird, the Mouse and the Cricket." Each story features mythical creatures from Irish lore including fairies, elves and a griffin.

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Tabetha White, director, said the children are working hard to get the show ready in time for Friday's premiere.

"We've had a much shorter rehearsal period for this show than we normally have," White said. "We have the PEEPshow coming up, so we wanted to get in and out before that madness begins."

Since this is the first of the children's plays to be performed in March, White said she decided to bring the story in line with the Arts Center's other Irish productions this month, including the Teelin' Irish Dance Company and Barleyjuice shows.

White said they had the option to perform the show as a musical or as a straight play, but the inclusion of the songs, written by Bill Francour, seemed obvious.

"The musical version just has so much more life and energy," White said. "And, for a kids' show, the music is really, very good."

The musical numbers feature both solos and group songs in a Celtic style. The actors also participate in choreographed Irish jigs.

Molly Prunty, Arts Council intern and choreographer, said particular challenges come about from designing choreography for young dancers.

"It's always difficult not to underestimate or overestimate their skill level," Prunty said. "It can be fun, though, to see them progress from when I first give them material to work with to final showtime."

Harper Fair, a fifth-grade home-schooled student playing the griffin's wife, said the inclusion of the fantasy characters makes the play more fun.

Even the students who aren't playing mythical creatures said they enjoyed finding ways to play different characters.

Aleigh Freed, a fifth-grader at Charles Carroll Elementary School, plays lead character Fin O'Grady's mother. She said it's interesting to play a character so much older than herself.

"This is my first show. I really love singing, so I asked my mom if there were any shows that I could be in," Freed said. "I'm enjoying it even more than I thought I would. I don't want the show to end."

In addition to the shortened rehearsal time, this year represents the first opportunity for second-grade performers to take part in the show. They will play elves and fairies.

"We had a lot of interested parents who wanted to expose their second-graders to theater," White said. "After so many calls, we thought it would be a good idea to include them."

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White said it's important to introduce theater and the arts to children as early as possible.

"It helps them become more confident in themselves and with their dealings with others," White said. "In acting, you need to be vulnerable and allow yourself to be exposed, and that can be very valuable for shy children, as well as children who are more outgoing."

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