Howard home-schoolers feel right at home on stage

A teaspoon of sugar may help the medicine go down, but it takes practice, practice, practice to bring Mary Poppins to life to deliver it.

Just days before opening weekend, 16 actors gathered on stage at the Drama Learning Center in Columbia to learn blocking, go over lines and work with props. Since the end of January, the group of third- through eighth-graders has met once a week - coming from all over the county and as far as Annapolis - to participate in the center's production of "Disney's Mary Poppins."

"Mary Poppins is a monster of a show," said Kara Lenoard, assistant director. "The kids have worked so hard and want to do so well."

For over 20 years, DLC has offered classes and summer camps in drama, Broadway dance and theatre for all ages at its facility on Red Branch Road. While this will be DLC's fifth production of "Mary Poppins" this season -all of the winter classes are performing it - it is the first for its new home-school musical theatre program.

"We had some inquiries," said Tiffany Holmes, resident music director and arts administrator for DLC, about the decision to host a home-school class. "We reached out to some homeschool communities and the response was great."

After doing some market research, DLC could not find anything else offered in the area for home-choolers that was similar to what they had planned, Holmes said.

"Some home-school-co-ups put on a play but we couldn't find anything," Holmes said, that provided a production on a professional stage.

"It provides a great experience for a lot of these kids," Holmes said. "A lot of homeschoolers ... do not have the opportunity to perform with a group."

Kaelyn Jolly, 11, travels from Annapolis to participate. She has three roles: Ms. Smythe, Katie Nana and as a statue.

"I really want to be an actress so I started taking acting lessons," Jolly said, of her dedication. "It's really fun."

While he has worked behind the scenes in the past, Ethan Thomas is excited to make his stage debut in "Mary Poppins."

"It feels really good," Ethan, 13, said, smiling. "You have to memorize but I carry on pretty good with that."

The class rehearsed every Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. Rehearsals became daily, from 1 to 4 p.m., the week before the show. As it is a class, parts were issued after the first session in January, Leonard said. Many of the participants have several parts.

"Almost all of them have two or three parts," Leonard said. "They all have a lot to do."

In addition to acting on stage, the youth will have to move the sets around to change the scenery, too.

"They do everything," Leonard said. "They see what goes on in a theater show."

Up in a box overlooking the stage, Eli Vogel, 17, handled the lights and the music cues for the rehearsal. A veteran of theatre since his "elementary school days," Vogel is a paid student who started helping for dress rehearsal week.

"They need an extra person to help with tech stuff," Vogel said, of Leonard and Sarah Luckadoo, the director. As a homeschool student himself, Vogel has met many friends participating in DLC's classes.

"People come a great distance to do DLC," Vogel said. "It's worth it."

Thanks to small heels on her theatre shoes, Natalie Armstrong is able to stand a little taller than her cast mates. As the main character, Mary Poppins, the 9-year-old says it helps make her appear older.

"In real life, the kids are about the same age, but they are a little shorter than me, especially in high heels," Natalie said.

Memorizing all her lines has been challenging for her, too, but she took an improv class and isn't nervous.

"It's tech week and...getting a little tough," Natalie said.

Alyssia Kimbrell, 10, has always loved the movie "Mary Poppins."

"When I was little, I would watch it every day," Kimbrell said, of the film. She travels from Arnold to perform her roles as Miss Lark and Fannie.

"The hardest part is knowing when to come in and recognizing the calls," she said, adding that nerves are not a possibility.

"I've done dance rehearsals, so I've been on stage."

DLC is offering a spring class for home-schoolers on Friday mornings beginning March 31. The spring musical will be "Disney's Beauty and the Beast" on May 30 and 31. The decision to offer a morning class instead of an afternoon came at the request of several parents, Holmes said.

"We have a bunch of students really interested in the spring," Holmes said. "Many of them have afternoon commitments."

For the actors in Mary Poppins, Friday's show is finally on the horizon.

"It takes a lot of perserverence to get a show where it needs to be in the end," Vogel laughed.

"It has been so awesome," Leonard said. "All of the kids, none of them knew anyone. It's been jammed packed, but really, really good."

The Homeschool Musical Theatre program at The Drama Learning Center, 9130 Red Branch Road, Suite 1, Columbia, will present "Disney's Mary Poppins" on March 4, at 1 p.m., and March 5, at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 410-849-6335.

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