- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 19, 2003

No one appreciates children like well other children.

Even the youngest in the audience of about 500 seemed bewitched at a recent performance of "The Snow Queen" by the Children's Theatre in Arlington.

Actors and actresses as young as 9 sang and danced during this musical version of the Hans Christian Andersen classic. Crew members ages 12 to 18 pushed and dropped into place props and scenery inspired or created by children.

It's all in a day's work for these young thespians drawn from the neighborhoods of Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District. The children prepare for several months, at least, to stage each of the theater's five annual plays, says Susan Kady, the company's artistic director.

"Children's theater is a provocative choice for kids and parents," she says. "The main component is that it's a lot of fun. It's a healthy way for the children to spend their time. It gives them a creative outlet. We demand the kids behave in a certain way, and they're great about keeping the creative energy going. This is a by-choice situation."

With children's theater, the performer-audience relationship is mutually beneficial.

"It's children performing for children," says Ms. Kady, who also teaches theater at George Washington University. Young audience members "learn better from other children. They're inspired by it. They think, 'Oh, I could do that,'"

"We do have some extraordinarily talented children," says Ms. Kady, but children do not need to be experienced to participate in the theater's productions. The adults who cast and produce the plays try to keep the members balanced between children with and without experience.

"We're looking for drive and desire and those who will give us 100 percent, so we're working with someone who genuinely wants to be there," Ms. Kady says. "We might have 150 kids audition, but we only take 25 or so. They understand they have been given something special, and they treat it that way."

Catalina Lavalle, 17, of Annandale says she auditioned for a part in a Children's Theatre production years ago and did not make the cut. Fast forward to her current role the beautiful, haughty, mean Snow Queen. She says she loves performing for children.

"The characters come to life for little kids," Catalina says. "When I'm onstage, I see kids really getting into it. With adults it's just not as special for them. Kids will come up to me after the show and ask, 'Is your crown really made of ice?' I explain to them I'm just acting. And after they come here they can come back and audition just like me. It's a great cycle."

Caitlin Levine, a 10-year-old from Arlington who plays the lead character, Gerda, says she believes that children like watching people their own age "do something interesting, and they think it's fun. I enjoy performing for kids because I know they're really enjoying it, too."


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