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More Treats than Tricks

A Fairfax Station family turns its back yard into a 40-person Halloween production.

For the residents of one Fairfax Station neighborhood, Halloween has meant spotlights and flashy musical numbers, rather than things that go bump in the night.

A Halloween production incorporating nearly 50 children takes place every year in the Havenwood community, but it focuses more on sending out treats than tricks.

"It's not the ooey-gooey, eerie type Halloween," said Heather Cooper, who directs the production, which is performed in the back yard of her Rutledge Drive home.

For four years, Cooper and her husband, Steve, have hosted the production, which she calls a "Halloween Parable."

"It started out as a hokey little thing, and every year it's gotten better and better," said Steve Cooper.

The production, which took place last Sunday, featured 43 children, many from Fairfax Station, but others from across Fairfax County.

The 30-minute original show was written by Heather Cooper and was loosely based on an episode of the popular "Veggie Tales" children's video series titled "The Rumor Weed."

According to Heather Cooper, her plays are parables, like those found in the Bible, but set in the present day around Halloween.

"We take all the parables for doing good deeds and use Halloween reference points," she said. "I'm not trying to preach to them, but I think being a good person is important. Halloween is a fun holiday, and it can be practiced in many different ways. "

That's just the basic premise, though. On top of the original script, Heather Cooper incorporated lasers, fog machines and an audio track she and her husband recorded themselves in their home studio.

THE ANNUAL holiday show began in 2001 as a short preamble to the real attraction — a spooky "haunted path" through the woods next to the Coopers' home.

"We're on 5-acre lots, so we're not really close to each other," said Kathy Paxton, one of the Coopers' neighbors who has had three children in the play. "The children in our neighborhood go to all different schools. It brings everybody together."

Each play has grown in scope and drawn in more children. Cooper said she begins weekly rehearsals right after Labor Day. Since all the dialogue is prerecorded, the performers have no lines to memorize, but they must learn extensive choreography.

"There's no auditions," said Heather Cooper. "They just have to be willing to have a good attitude and act like a crazy person on stage."

The play costs around $5,000, according to Heather Cooper, and she stores all the props and decorations for the play and the haunted path in her family's basement.

The neighbors are as into the play as the Coopers are.

"We plan our fall around being involved in the neighborhood play," Paxton said.

The play is also a way for the Coopers to return to their theater roots. Both natives of Michigan, they met in a community dinner theater in high school and stayed in touch while both were involved in productions at separate colleges in Michigan.

"I think it's because part of what has made my husband and I people is we had this support group when we were in theater," said Heather Cooper. She also has an ulterior motive — teaching children to become comfortable in front of groups.

"I see kids these days who are scared to death to speak in front of people. I guess all the skills we learned from theater, we're trying to give them to our kids," said Heather Cooper, whose two children have been in the play all four years.

She estimated more than 200 people attend the plays, which don't cost anything. Her husband said the play now includes children from Fairfax, Clifton and Springfield, as well as classmates of his children at the Congressional Schools of Virginia in Falls Church.

"Heather wanted to do something fun in the back yard," said Steve Cooper. "And the circle just keeps getting bigger and bigger."