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Children's Theater Grows Up in Mount Vernon

Classes, camps, productions extend theater learning and fun.

The Mount Vernon Community Children's Theatre (MVCCT), celebrating its 23rd year, is making dramatic strides in its commitment to bring the magic of the theater to an ever-broadening audience.

In addition to a season of theater productions performed by and for young people, MVCCT has added year-round education programs in a number of area locations, a spring-break camp to its four-play season, and its summer camp for children 3-18. To better involve whole families, the theater is holding a series of Family Open Mike Nights.

"Our plan for expanding MVCCT's educational programs is to place more emphasis on outreach in the community," explained Cathy Ebert, president of MVCCT's Board of Directors. "We want all of the young people in our diverse community to be exposed to, and have a chance to participate, in theater arts."

To help reach that goal, Ebert and Beth Hauptle, who coordinate the organization's education and outreach programs, contacted the office of Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D-Mount Vernon). This led to an introduction and subsequent meetings with Patricia Franckewitz, director of the Fairfax Department of Community and Recreation Services, and members of her staff. As a result of Franckewitz's support, new MVCCT classes began this February in cooperation with Fairfax County at the Gum Springs Community Center, the "The Hideaway" Teen Center at the South County Government Center, and the Sacramento Neighborhood Community Center.

According to Hauptle, MVCCT also provides theater classes as part of PTA-sponsored after-school programs. Fort Hunt, Silverbrook, and Lane elementary schools are already participating or planning programs. MVCCT is also planning a program specifically for senior adults as well as multigenerational programs to begin this fall at the Hollin Hall Senior Center.

"Julie Ellis, the director at Hollin Hall, is extremely enthusiastic about working with us, especially since the seniors have had drama on their wish list for some time now," said Hauptle. "While it will be truly rewarding for us to work with seniors as a group, the multigenerational aspect to the work makes it even more exciting. There will be opportunities for story sharing, creative writing and theater games and improvisation."

IN A FURTHER EXPANSION, MVCCT has added Spring Break Camp, April 14-18, at Heritage Presbyterian Church, home of its summer camp sessions. An all-day camp (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) for children from kindergarten through eighth grade at Heritage will culminate in a performance of the campers' own adaptation of Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” with three different age levels taking on the roles of a group of characters. Each age group will rehearse independently throughout the week and then bring it all together for a camp-wide production with music and dance.

John Waldron, with a B.F.A. in theater from Virginia Commonwealth University, and who recently directed MVCCT's Teen Show, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” will teach this session. He will be joined by Chris Davenport, who holds a B.A. in theater from the University of Maryland and who has performed and directed with many local theaters, and Andrew Martineau, an instructor with MVCCT since 1994 who holds a B.F.A. in theater education from Virginia Commonwealth University and an M.A. in English from George Mason University. Martineau directed “The Hobbit” for MVCCT this past fall. Choreographer Laurel Dugan, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and a founding member of the Vermont Fairytale Theatre, and a Liz Lerman Dance Exchange artist, will teach dance technique classes as well as provide choreography for “A Midsummer Night's Dream.”

WEST POTOMAC High School senior Corey Ahearn, who played Willy Wonka in Waldron's winter production, will assist the team.

Half-day mini spring-break camps are scheduled for kindergarteners through eighth-graders at Heritage from 9 a.m.-noon, Monday through Wednesday, and from noon-3 p.m., Monday through Friday for first- to sixth-graders at the Sacramento Neighborhood Center.

"We have always been fortunate in being positioned to attract a very high caliber of teaching artists for our classes and camps, and this year is no exception," said Hauptle.

Other teachers in the spring semester include Elliot Dash, who received his Master of Fine Arts degree in classical acting from the University of South Carolina after interning at The Shakespeare Theatre, and Duyen Washington, a professional children's theater actress who holds a B.S. from Northwestern University.

MVCCT'S SUMMER CAMP PROGRAM, which includes classes for preschoolers through high school, will continue this summer at Heritage and in one or two other about-to-be-announced locations in South Fairfax County. The camp includes a popular musical theater workshop. And for the first time, this year’s summer camp will also offer a technical theater class for those not comfortable being on stage but who want to learn and be involved in other aspects of theater production.

Preschool camp will take place June 16-20; and camp for 5- to 18-year-olds will take place in two-week sessions: July 14-25, July 28-Aug. 8, and Aug. 11-22. Full and partial scholarships are available for all MVCCT educational programs for those who qualify.

MVCCT's production schedule also increased during the past year. Traditionally, the theater produced a musical in the fall and spring and a teen drama in the winter. "Last year, due to a growing demand from parents for involving younger kids in our productions, the board decided to produce what we call our junior show for children 6-8 years old," said Ebert. "That effort was very successful, so we're continuing this spring with the production of ‘Aesop's Fables.’ The performances are scheduled for June 7.

The upcoming 2003-04 season includes “Pinocchio,” “She Stoops to Conquer,” “Anne of Green Gables” and “An Anans Story.” Several fund-raisers are also being planned for the next season, including a Murder Mystery Dinner and a Silent Auction.

"One thing that makes MVCCT unique is that our theater is for and by children. All parts are cast with kids. We want to provide a creative outlet that helps them to develop confidence, independence and accountability through self-expression. And, in addition to our own area, we draw young people from Fairfax and Arlington counties, the city of Alexandria, suburban Maryland and the District of Columbia," said Ebert.

While the board of directors guides the theater, Ebert said that productions would never be possible without a myriad of parent and community volunteers. "We encourage anyone interested in volunteering in any aspect of the theatre — from public relations to set building to costume design — to contact us about getting involved with our Friends of the Theatre program," said Ebert. "This recently formed group functions much like a school PTA, offering volunteers the flexibility to work as much or as little as they want to on behalf of MVCCT."

MVCCT's next Family Mike Night is scheduled for Saturday, April 26, from 6-9 p.m., at Heritage. Admission is $5 per person (free under age 5). Families can sing with a karaoke machine or be accompanied by a pianist.

For more information about any of MVCCT's programs, productions or volunteer opportunities, call 703-360-0686 or visit the Web site at mvvct.org.