Visitors to last summer's Harford County Seafood Festival may recall meeting the Mad Hatter, a character from the Lewis Carroll children's story who mingled with the crowds and invited them into the world of Alice in Wonderland.
The Mad Hatter was a costumed Bel Air High School sophomore named Carrie Siegel.
The 15-year-old was among the young actors who came to the festival to promote a production of the play by Theatreworks . . . Live!, a nonprofit theater company her parents helped start early this year.
Mark and Mary Siegel, who live in Bel Air, became two of the founders of the new theater company after Harford Community College discontinued its family-oriented theater program last year.
Jerry Ryan, vice president for marketing, planning and development at the college, said the program was losing money and did not fit in with a "short-term emphasis" on bolstering community theater for adults.
The Siegels' daughter, Carrie, had been taking noncredit theater classes at the college for several years and wanted to continue to study acting and performing.
"Carrie was learning to speak in front of an audience and was gaining a sense of security about herself," said Mrs. Siegel, who works for Bell Atlantic.
"We decided the program needed to go on," said Mr. Siegel, a history teacher at Perry Hall Middle School. "I think the kids need the chance to be on stage. A lot of them are not athletes. This is their thing. It gives them something they can feel good about."
So the Siegels met with Joanne Bouton, the artistic director and administrator of the discontinued community college program, and with Patty and Rick Richardson, a Harford County couple with a background in acting and an interest in children's theater.
They decided to invest their time and a few hundred dollars per family in developing Theatreworks . . . Live! so that area youngsters could continue to study acting and perform on stage.
"When Mark suggested that we get together to offer a service to kids in Harford County, we decided to give it a try," said Mrs. Richardson, who teaches communications and public speaking at Cecil Community College.
Mrs. Richardson is artistic/educational director of musical theater, sharing creative duties with Ms. Bouton, who is artistic/educational director of drama in the new theater organization. The Siegels handle the business end, with Mrs. Siegel in charge of administration and Mr. Siegel directing publicity and marketing.
Theatreworks . . . Live! was incorporated in February, and its first Saturday classes were held in the spring in rented classrooms at John Carroll School. A four-week summer class culminated in the "Alice in Wonderland" production.
This fall, 50 to 60 students registered for classes. In addition to acting, they may study music and dance in Broadway shows, scenery, costuming, mime, makeup, auditioning and lighting.
The cost of a six-week class is $42 if the student preregisters. Registration on the day class starts is $50.
Theatreworks . . . Live! has received token grant money from the Harford County Cultural Advisory Board and financial backing from several Harford County businesses.
Income from donations, tuition payments and ticket sales pays for teachers' salaries, rent, scenery, costumes and insurance.
The company plans to take its shows on the road to raise additional funds.
"At this point we're looking for angels -- people who will be producers and offer us financial support," Mr. Siegel said.
"I like the experience of the classes," Carrie said. "All of the teens there are really nice. A lot of people who come in the program at first are really shy. They become stronger people."
For information about the winter session, which begins in January, or about performances, call 879-9821.