- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 21, 2002

In the minutes before the curtain went up at St. Timothy's Catholic School in Chantilly Wednesday night, little girls in bonnets and velvet dresses and little boys in high socks and Dockers hemmed at midshin scurried excitedly backstage. They passed last-minute instructions to each other and sneaked peeks into the gymnasium, where about 300 parents and friends were seated in folding chairs around the small stage framed by a gold curtain.
Dozens of Virginia home-schoolers were about to perform in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," and in the best Dickensian tradition a day past the 159th anniversary of when the Christmas classic was first published the 5- to-17-year-olds were performing to raise money for charity.
They had been rehearsing once a week since October under the supervision of home-schooling parents Patricia Laing and Barbara Clougherty, who came up with the idea for the play in September. They say what their children miss most about traditional schooling is the activities, such as performing in theatrical productions.
"When you're home-schooled, there's a lot you can do at home, but you need a group for some activities," Mrs. Laing says.
So the two decided they would put on a Christmas play and reach out to other home-schooling families to participate. They also decided to make the performance more meaningful by asking the audience to donate to Food for the Poor Inc., a charity based in Deerfield Beach, Fla., to which both women have contributed. They hoped to raise $2,000, which, according to the charity, is enough to build a 12-by-12-foot home for a needy family in Central America.
"It was something we really felt would be wonderful for our kids," Mrs. Laing says.
"It just made sense that when you had this big production, whose message is to give to the poor, that we parlay that message to our audience," Mrs. Clougherty says.
Before the show started, baskets near the gymnasium's entrance already were being filled with dollar bills.

Auditions began in October after notices went out to families in Northern Virginia through the Traditions of Roman Catholic Homes, part of the National Organization of Catholic Homeschoolers.
"We decided we weren't going to say no to anyone who really wanted to be in the show," Mrs. Laing says.
The result was a cast of more than 50 students. Mrs. Clougherty spent a weekend at her computer with the novel in her lap, writing out the parts. She later updated her script to add extra street people, gift carriers and a choir and lines to accommodate all the children.
"The Cratchits have a few extra kids," Mrs. Laing says.
The most troubling problem was the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, who is onstage for almost the entire play.
Would the part be too much for one child? Should they cast several children in the role? If not enough boys turned out, would it be possible to cast a girl in the lead role?
They found their answers in Gerard Maurer.
The 15-year-old church-choir veteran won the part as much for his talent as his insistence that he could memorize all the lines.
"I never expected to get the part when I auditioned," Gerard says. He calls the role "physically demanding" but insists the extra work did not interfere with his studies.
Parents also got involved, sewing Victorian-era costumes and helping with choreography, makeup and set construction.
The contributions really started rolling in after the performance of the play, which the audience clearly considered a smashing success.
Hardly a line was dropped, and even the miscues including a scene change that required three choruses of "Good King Wenceslas" evoked patient laughter from the audience.
Several children incorporated other talents into the performance. In one scene, two children performed a "Riverdance"-style Irish number while a third child accompanied them with a violin.
Even Bob Cratchit got into the action, serenading Tiny Tim and the family with Christmas carols on an acoustic guitar.
Afterward, Mrs. Clougherty stood in front of the stage, beaming, greeting parents and assuring them that their children had performed beautifully. A few feet away, Gerard still decked out in Scrooge's top hat and scarf signed autographs for children while the adults chattered in small groups over the din of metal chairs being folded and stored for Thursday night's show.
They had not had a chance to count the donations, but both Mrs. Laing and Mrs. Clougherty said they considered the show a tremendous success and added that it likely will become an annual event. Next time, though, they will give themselves more time to prepare.
"If we'd known what we know now, I think we still would have done it," Mrs. Clougherty said, "but we would have had our eyes wider open."

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