"I know that it's muggy and you're tired, because your energy shows it," director Ken Skrzesz tells the group of children. "But you've got to focus."
The children are enrolled in the Musical Theater Summer Intensive 2000 camp in Towson, and Skrzesz is rehearsing them for the two performances today that mark the finale of the two-week camp. The shows, at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, are sold out.
When Skrzesz talks about musicals, people listen. He has performed more than 20 roles in musical theater and directed or choreographed more than 40 musicals and operas. He is on the dance and theater faculties at the Carver Center, Baltimore County's magnet school for the arts, and is the founder of the SURGE Dance Company of Baltimore, sponsor of the camp.
"The kids are here because they want to work with the best, " said Ruth Vogel, acting teacher and vocal coach.
John Szendiuch, 13, traveled all the way from New York City to attend. "I've always been interested in acting, so my mom and I thought that this camp would be a good idea," John said.
The main purpose of the camp, for children from fifth grade through high school, is to build self-confidence by offering challenging but attainable experiences, and teaching the history of Broadway.
"The kids in the camp are great," Skrzesz said. "But I have four good instructors in the camp to help."
The faculty includes Vogel; Doug Yetter, vocal music teacher, accompanist and arranger; and two Carver alumni, Matt Cline, rehearsal assistant, and Elena Soderblom, costume instructor.
The children have had long days of training, starting with yoga at 9 a.m., then rotating among dance, acting and costume-making classes, small-group rehearsal and final rehearsal, which includes everyone.
Fifty of them have hustled their way into formations upstage and downstage all week during final rehearsal, but by Tuesday it was time to make what was OK on Monday better. By Wednesday, it was time to make it better still. By today's shows, the students are supposed to be no less than great.
"That's not good enough," Skrzesz told them Tuesday. "You have to know every moment where you're going. Come on, I know you can do it." After a few more tries, the group perfected the choreography, and smiles replaced frustration.
"All the faculty are really nice," said Courtney Hofferbert, 11. "They make sure that you understand what you're doing."
"If they didn't work so hard, we wouldn't expect so much," Vogel said.
"I've been blown away," said Amy Oswald, whose daughter Jennifer, 11, is one of the participants. "Since the day this camp began, my daughter has been so enthusiastic. She does better with practicing the music and choreography than doing her homework. I'm amazed at the energy they bring out of those kids."
Marina Wright, 12, one of many campers who wants to attend Carver, said, "It's really fun. We joke around with the instructors all the time. But when you mess up, you have to get the job done."
The first show will be at noon today and the finale at 1:30 p.m. Tribute will be paid to the "Golden Age of Broadway" with songs from "Fiddler on the Roof," "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," "Oliver" and others.
After the stresses of the past two weeks, and dealing with 50 kids, there's still no time to relax.
"Oh," said Yetter. "We're already planning for next year."