- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

Tali Friedman of Bethesda dreams of becoming a professional actress when she grows up. Her goal is to take Broadway by storm. In the meantime, Tali, 14, a freshman at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, studies at the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts' Imagination Stage. She also recently participated in her high school's production of "Les Miserables."
"I love being on stage," she says. "I prefer to have a live audience rather than be in movies or films. It's part of the excitement."
Learning to act provides an opportunity to enter an imaginary world and assume a new identity. Although acting is a creative outlet, it also helps participants acquire poise for everyday circumstances.
David Markey, director of theater education at BAPA's Imagination Stage, says he starts by instilling good habits in his students, which includes a regimen of vocal and physical warm-ups at the beginning of each rehearsal.
The next 16-week semester begins on Saturday and culminates with a "Students on Stage Festival" May 5-10. The organization provides courses for students from pre-kindergarten through high school, which cost $200 for a 45-minute class, $260 for an hour class and $380 for a 1 hour class.
It also sponsors an acting conservatory, with a fee of $480 a semester, for students who are serious about developing their acting skills. Information on the programs is listed at www.imaginationstage.org/bapa.
"Part of the goal is to have them be able to create believable and sustainable characters," Mr. Markey says. "We try to give them a tool bag from which they can do that."
As students prepare for their roles on stage, Mr. Markey says they assume a greater awareness of themselves and other people. They also learn to work well in groups.
"It helps them articulate their thoughts and cooperate with others," he says. "It makes them less afraid of presenting their thoughts in a public arena."
When working with young children, Madeleine Burke, senior faculty director of outreach programming at BAPA's Imagination Stage, says she primarily develops their vocal and physical skills through songs and games. She also focuses on increasing their levels of concentration and observation.
"A lot of kids enjoy role playing," she says. "They love being someone that they're not. They love imagination."
For instance, one of Ms. Burke's students, Abigail Jones of Brookeville says she enjoys pretending to be a fox. Abigail, 7, took "Creative Drama and Movement" in the fall and will continue the class in the upcoming season. She is portraying Foxy Fox in the class play, "Bearsie Bear."
"I really like foxes," she says. "It's fun. It gets all your exercise out. You can act things out and run around the room."
Most people have an actor, director or designer inside of them, says Roland Branford Gomez, governor of education for the Little Theatre of Alexandria. It's simply a matter of bringing the hidden talent to the surface.
The Little Theatre offers a myriad of classes for youth and adults, including "Shakespeare Made Simple," "Singing for Stage and Beyond," and "Broadway/Theatre Jazz." Most courses cost $125 for 10 two-hour classes.
The deadline to sign up for the new season is Feb. 20. More information is listed at www.thelittletheatre.com.
"There are so many avenues, even if you don't feel you have any talent," Mr. Gomez says. "It uses many talents, such as accounting, makeup, costumes and set design."
In the fall, Albert Petrasek, 39, of Baltimore, participated in "Getting into the Business of Film, Radio and Television" at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. The course, which is offered again this spring, outlines the process of breaking into the acting business. It helps students learn how to prepare audition materials and how to contact an agent or casting director.
In the upcoming season, Mr. Petrasek plans to enroll in "Improvisation," which trains students how to work together to create scenes.
"I've always been interested in theater, movies and film from the time I was a young child," Mr. Petrasek says. "It's my therapy and my release in life. I'm able to tap some inner creative drive that I can't through other means."
Roylee McCullough, 70, of Arlington says she acted a lot during her 30s and has returned to the craft after a lengthy hiatus. She has taken "Singing for the Stage and Beyond" and "Improvisation" at the Little Theatre of Alexandria.
"I love being on stage and holding the audience's attention in the palm of my hand," Ms. McCullough says. "I love that feeling of knowing that the audience is enjoying what I'm relating to them. Of course, it's frightening, too. You always get butterflies, but that's part of it."
Calming nervousness, especially during auditions, is an important skill to master, says David Jackson, teacher at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Northwest.
It also takes hard work and perseverance to land an acting job. He says there is no quick way to success.
Mr. Jackson is teaching "Auditioning" for $260 for eight weeks with classes starting the week of Feb. 17.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre School, which is part of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, offers classes at all levels for students who take theater training seriously. More information can be found at www.woollymammoth.net.
"There are two ways you get jobs in the theater: You audition for the role, or the director already knows you and doesn't need you to audition," Mr. Jackson says. "If you don't know the director, and he hasn't seen your work, the only way you're going to get an acting job is to audition for it."
Jewel Greenberg, 22, of Chevy Chase says she appreciates the feedback she receives from Woolly Mammoth Theatre because she wants to act professionally.
She has taken "Exploding the Text," an eight-week course on finding the deeper meaning in a script, and "Acting Through Yourself," a workshop on examining individual habits and how they affect acting skills.
In May, Miss Greenberg graduated from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., with a degree in theater arts.
"I like telling stories," she says. "It exposes me to a wide range of subjects and gives me a wider knowledge base."
Acting also provides an opportunity to develop listening skills, says Serge Seiden, production and literary manager at Studio Theatre in Northwest.
He says paying close attention to other actors on stage is vital when working with a large group. Mr. Seiden will teach "Principles of Realism," and "Character and Emotion" in the spring semester, which begins Jan. 27.
The school offers about 20 courses, which range in cost from $100 to $475 depending on the class.
In its 28th year, Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory has trained more than 6,000 actors and directors.
More information can be found at www.studiotheatre.org.
For class assignments, Mr. Seiden often tells his pupils to transform themselves into an animal or a statue.
After sending them to the National Zoological Park in Northwest or a local museum to observe, students act out the traits of the animal or statue they've studied.
Although beginning actors usually dislike these exercises, Mr. Seiden says doing them help participants lose their inhibitions.
"It's being private in public," Mr. Seiden says. "It challenges a sense of propriety. It's quite freeing."

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