County classrooms may be empty for the summer, but in the coming weeks the stages of several Howard County high schools will be bustling with young actors singing, dancing, conversing and emoting.
Three productions are giving theatrical youth - ranging from second-graders to college students - opportunities to express themselves, expand their skills and enjoy some more time in the spotlight:
*Howard County Summer Theater is producing High School Musical as its "junior" show for actors in second through ninth grades at Mount Hebron High School tomorrow and Friday;
*A group of River Hill High School alumni, staff and students will produce The Glass Menagerie in that school's theater tomorrow, Friday and Saturday;
*The Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts' Teen Professional Theatre begins rehearsals Monday for an original version of Phantom of the Opera, with performances scheduled for July 24 through 27.
This is the third year the Howard County Summer Theater has had a junior production aimed at the youngest actors.
It is an idea that developed when the theater had dozens of young people in its production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 2005, said Marla Blasko, the junior show director. After that show, Blasko said, the company's leadership needed to decide, "What are we going to do with all this talent?"
This year, the Disney show High School Musical has been edited into a one-act version and cast with 43 youth chosen by audition.
There are still roles for younger actors in the main stage show, Guys and Dolls, scheduled for July 11 through 19, Blasko said. But High School Musical's many ensemble numbers appeal to younger audiences, making it "a great way to introduce young actors to theater."
The junior show also provides opportunities for older students to take on key roles in the production. This year, the team includes 2008 Mount Hebron High School graduates Kassi Mattera and Laura Tschirgi, who choreographed the dance numbers and are assisting Blasko with directing.
Education is a key goal for the Teen Professional Theatre, as well.
For several years, that group has stood out from the other summer camps at the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts because of its tough audition process and focus on large-scale Broadway musicals.
It also provides workshops with professional dancers, vocal coaches and actors and takes advantage of talent and tools (including costumes, sets and props) from founder Toby Orenstein's dinner theater.
This year, the camp is being used as a way to revive a musical based on the novel The Phantom of the Opera that Orenstein commissioned more than a dozen years ago.
During the camp, Orenstein, co-director Kevin McAllister of Pikesville and composer Tom Alonso of Ellicott City plan to tweak the show. The young people will perform at the end of July at Reservoir High School, and this fall, McAllister will direct professional actors in the show at Orenstein's Baltimore theater.
Alonso said his adaptation of Phantom, which he wrote with collaborator Michael Tilford in 1993, "has a different take" than the well-known Andrew Lloyd Webber version. "It kind of explores the Phantom's psyche, his childhood," Alonso said. "It is a little more intimate."
McAllister said he thinks the teenagers will relate to the family dynamics in this version of Phantom and to the gossipy world of the opera house. He said young people can also have their own take on the material.
"The incredible thing about young actors is they are not afraid to ask questions," he said. "They also force you to think on a different level. You have to be able to accept that actors may have some insight you can use."
This is the first year that alumni, staff and current students from River Hill High School have put on a summer production, but the group hopes it will become a lasting tradition.
Pam Land, River Hill's theater arts director, said the idea started with informal conversations with alumni about them and her acting in a production together.
Alex Fast, a 2006 graduate and now a student at New York University, decided to return to his Clarksville home for the summer, and the idea of producing Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie took root. The cast began with him and Land and expanded to include 2007 graduate Emily Woodhouse and 2006 graduate Andrew Boetcher, who are also pursuing college degrees in theater.
Michael Leon, a 2007 graduate, was available to act as production designer, and they called on Sally Livingston, a theatre arts teacher at Marriotts Ridge High School who has directed at River Hill, to direct this production. Other alumni, students and parents stepped up to work on lights, costumes, publicity and an original musical score.
The group decided that if there are any proceeds, they will go toward establishing a fine- arts scholarship for River Hill students.
Now that the former students are adults with advanced training, the process is much less centered on the director, Livingston said. "This has been truly collaborative. Our relationship is different now. It is more free, more open."
The group's familiarity has allowed the entire cast to work smoothly together from the beginning, Fast said. But at times, it has also led to some "20-minute digressions and a little too much fun."
Land said: "It has been really wonderful to see these folks coming back. It's been so much fun. This is as good as it gets as a teacher."
High School Musical
Who: Produced by Howard County Summer Theater, Junior Edition.
When: Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. and Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Mount Hebron High, Route 99 and St. Johns Lane, Ellicott City.
Tickets: $5. Proceeds benefit Prepare for Success and the Salvation Army.
The Glass Menagerie
Who: Produced by River Hill High School Theatre Arts.
When: Tomorrow, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: River Hill High, 12101 Route 108, Clarksville.
Information: Jeanne Woodhouse, 410-428-7971.
Phantom of the Opera
Who: Produced by the Teen Professional Theatre.
When: July 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m; July 26 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and July 27 at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Reservoir High School, 11550 Scaggsville Road, Fulton.
Tickets: $12.50 students and seniors, $15 general admission.