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On Martin Luther King Day, a vacation day from school, 30 youth formed a circle on the stage at Slayton House in Columbia and proceeded to yell "Bop" and act like witches in an elimination game that left two victorious and the rest laughing on the stage's floor. All participants in Slayton House's first 'summer sampler' workshop on Jan. 16, the youth were there to learn first-hand what Slayton House offers in its summer theater programs.

"This is the first time we have done an event like this," said Rachael Strube, camp manager, of the two free three-hour sessions. The idea and date were discussed last summer, Strube said, and when the first session's registration opened, it filled quickly. An afternoon session was then added, and it too, filled to capacity.

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"It gives people a glimpse of what camp is like," Strube said. "We pack a lot of things in a very short period of time."

Slayton House has been holding a summer theatre camp for 35 years, Strube said, offering a 'Broadway' edition camp as well as two, two-week session camps that teach the basics of drama from acting, to play writing and scenery building. All sessions produce a musical, and on Monday, the show names were revealed.

Wearing matching blond wigs and pink T-shirts reading 'Harvard Law School," Strube and Lauren Williams, a camp counselor, came giggling onstage before the campers and their parents to announce that "Legally Blonde" would be the Broadway edition's production while "Peter Pan," "Beauty and the Beast," "Bye, Bye Birdie" and "Seussical" would be the productions for sessions II and II.

When the Howard County Public School System organizes an annual exhibit of student artwork at the Columbia Art Center, it's always fun to see what the kids create. This year's themed exhibit, "Postcards Home: Wish You Were Here," has an especially neat premise.

"The big reveal is huge," said Ray Whitney, whose daughter, Erin, 10, is a seasoned summer theatre camp performer and was participating in the workshop. "It is difficult to express how excited the kids are to know what the show will be. We've been taking bets all year on what it would be."

The decision to "go blonde" and produce "Legally Blonde" was made when Slayton House learned that Silhouette Theater, a local theatre group that stages productions at Slayton House, announced it would be doing the show in the summer, Williams told the group on Monday. The two groups could share resources and Silhouette offered to do a workshop with the campers about the show, she added.

"We're super excited," Williams squealed.

To keep the excitement going, Williams sent parents away after the 'big reveal' and worked with the kids together on stage before dividing them into two groups; sending older teens to singing rehearsals and keeping the younger youth with her to learn dance steps to a tune from "Peter Pan."

Tara Heart's children, Bennett Horvath, 10, and Bella Horvath, 9, attended the theatre camp for the first time last summer and have been anxious to come back, she said.

"When I saw they had a three-hour workshop, I thought it would be a nice use of their time," Heart said. "It's fun to get back and reconnect. They enjoyed not only the kids, but the counselors and staff."

Whitney praised the whole program for its dedication.

"The camp experience ... is intense. They grow a lot," Whitney said, of his daughter's past participation in the Broadway edition camp. "They work so hard. They do a full show in three weeks."

Participating in theater can help youth in many ways, according to Strube, from how to project oneself in a way that makes them feel good about themselves, to building confidence. The group also learns how to support each other and how to reach out and help others that might be struggling.

"I discovered I had many other talents than just playing the drums or basketball," Matthew Brown, 13, told the group. A participant of the summer camp the past nine years, Brown wasinvited him to share his experiences with the group by Williams before helping with the workshops.

"Being around these kids makes me feel good," said Williams, afterwards, smiling, as youth surrounded him vying for his attention. "I barely know the younger kids and they already like me. It makes me feel like a brother."

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"It really is like a family," said Cheryl Campo, vocal instructor, of her first year with Slayton House. "I love it."

Williams said the morning workshop featured quite a few new faces mixed in with some familiar ones.

"It is fun to bring new people into the building and see what they think of camp," Williams said. "It's been a good day."

Slayton House Theatre Camp of the Arts, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, offers the following sessions this summer:

Improv Week!, June 19-23, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Session 1, Broadway Edition, June 26-July 14, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Session II: July 17-28, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Session III: July 31-Aug. 11, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Tuition and fees vary. Registration is now open. For more information call 410-730-3987 or email Rachael Strube at camp@wildelake.org



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