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Children's Hour' Takes Stage

Area students and teacher perform in Lillian Hellman play.

A few months ago, Heather Sanderson took four of her students to the auditions of “The Children’s Hour.” Six of those students were cast. She was excited for them, but she didn't anticipate what would come next.

A week or so after the students were cast, one of the lead characters had a conflict, and they asked Sanderson to take over the part. After much coaxing by her students, “Oh please, Miss Heather,” she agreed to do it.

“I had no idea when I was getting my students involved, that I'd be joining them. It's been the best experience,” Sanderson said. “It’s been the funnest summer carpooling with these girls; they’ve been testing me on my lines. It was great just to be part of their experience. They’ve totally kept me on my toes. To work with them and keep them having this experience is just so touching.”

Moreover, Sanderson found that after a long absence, she really enjoyed acting. “Apart from being such a fun experience, I also need to mention that having not acted for five years, because of the children and my teaching,” Sanderson said. “Being in the show during my busiest time of year has proved to me that I can ‘do it all’ and I am looking forward to exploring more performing opportunities for myself this coming year. If it wasn't for Firebelly Productions casting the girls, and the girl's encouragement when I was offered the role, I would probably not have taken the risk.”

"The Children’s Hour," which is being performed at Theater on the Run in Shirlington, is in its final week. The play by Lillian Hellman is set at a an all-girls boarding school in 1934. Portraying girls at the boarding school are Eliza Lore and Callan Memmo of Waynewood Elementary School; Gabrielle Katzbahn-Rush of St. Louis Catholic School; Emily Whitworth, an area home-school student; and Emily Woods of Stratford Landing Elementary School. Bryan Williams, also of Stratford Landing, plays the part of the grocery boy. It also features Ali Miller, Mollie Clement, Anna Waigand, Wendy Wilmer, Christian Gearhart, Julie Chappell and Christina Kidd,

The story revolves around one of the young students who invents gossip about her teachers’ relationship. The scandal rips apart friends, lovers, and lives in this adult drama.

SANDERSON IS a local drama teacher, and director of StagePlay, a theater arts program featuring Shakespearean drama classes which she founded in 2001. Throughout the school year, spring break, and during the summer, Sanderson offers dramatic arts programs for hundreds of Mount Vernon-area students ages three to 15. This summer, she is conducting her StagePlay Midsummer Dramatic Arts Camp at St. Aidan’s Church. Now, she can also be seen on stage at Theater on the Run in the role of Amelia Tilford, grandmother to the central character, Mary Tilford, played by Mollie Clement.

A professionally trained actress, Sanderson says it has been a challenge to return to the stage while juggling her two young children and her summer camp programs.

“'The Children’s Hour' is a wonderful and compelling production. It has been quite rewarding to be on stage with these talented actors and to be involved with such an innovative production company. And it has been all the more sweet to be acting along with several of my students, and my daughter, Eliza,” Sanderson said.

"THE CHILDREN’S HOUR," which runs daily through Aug. 7, is produced by Firebelly Productions. The production company is supported by Arlington County through the Arlington Commission for the Arts and the Cultural Affairs Division of the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources.

Kathi Gollwitzer, the artistic director for Firebelly Production and director of "The Children’s Hour," said, “In addition to being a compelling piece, this well-written classic gives our young actors good material to train with, and is balanced with several roles for the seasoned professionals.”

Tara Whitworth’s daughter, Rebecca Whitworth, was originally offered an acting role. Due to an away-Girl Scout-camp conflict during rehearsals, she had to decline, however the producer invited her to join the stage crew.

"This has been a great experience," said Tara Whitworth. "Firebelly Productions really lives its mission to serve young actors. After auditions, my two daughters were both offered parts. Rebecca, sadly, had to turn hers down, due to Girl Scout camp during rehearsals. Yet Kathi Gollwitzer saw an opportunity and pulled Rebecca into the stage crew. As part of the backstage effort, Rebecca has learned a lot and enjoyed her responsibilities. It's been a great experience for us."