- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

Home-schoolers in Virginia have been putting their creativity to work in the Young Peoples Theatre, a group in which students in grades one through 12 put on shows at local dinner theater facilities. This is a cooperative endeavor, involving several three-hour rehearsals a week for 10 to 12 weeks.

The group’s latest project is “Guys and Dolls,” the tribute to the colorful characters of Damon Runyon originally created in the short story “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown.” Those familiar with the Frank Loesser songs will be able to hum along to “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” as well as the title song “Guys and Dolls.”

The story is a classic tale of the sinner won over to a virtuous life through the love of a good woman. Professional gambler Sky Masterson bets his perpetually engaged — but never married — buddy, Nathan Detroit that he can get the uptight urban missionary lady, Sgt. Sarah Brown , to accompany him to Havana for a dinner date. Nathan has ulterior motives — to use the vacant mission as a site for a craps game, despite repeated promises to his sniffling sweetheart Adelaide that he’ll put the dice aside for wedded bliss.

Winning his bet, Sky finds himself moved by Sarah’s trust, and when they return to find the mission being used for gambling, he seeks to make it up to her with a deal she can’t refuse: He will deliver a dozen sinners’ souls to her mission. To do so, he bets each gambler a hefty sum against their immortal souls in the underground craps game that is the show’s climax.

The show has a cast of about 25 home-schoolers, so special group rates are available for home-schoolers who wish to attend. The matinee performances begin at noon with a brown-bag lunch, and the show begins at 1 p.m. The entire package is $15 in advance, $17 at the door — but for home-school groups reserving in advance, the price is $13 per person. If you just want to see the show without the lunch, the advance price is $10, and $12 at the door.

Several roles are played by two actors who switch off between the performances. Morla McCarthy, 13, of Dale City, Va., will share the lead role of Sarah with Lydia Austin, 16, of Woodbridge, Va. The show will be performed Saturday and Sunday and Oct. 7 and 8.

Jean Forbes produces and directs the productions and has been home-schooling her own two sons. In a recent interview, she described how the theater projects are designed to include history study, vocabulary, music and other academic areas.

For instance, when the group produced Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” they studied the Civil War. For this production, they have been studying the Depression era. Some of the actors learn set design, costuming and makeup as part of their involvement.

Most importantly to Ms. Forbes, this project builds the participants’ confidence, as they learn to sing and dance and present on stage, as well as learning to work as a team. One young man told her he had gained the courage he needed to do his Eagle Scout speech from his experience with the group. Indeed, one of her sons, now 23, recently had several of his original compositions performed at the Kennedy Center.

Parents are partners in the YPT productions, taking on key roles backstage and in the overall production. The entire experience allows home-schoolers to work together with those of various ages, learn multiple skills, and put the show on in a professional venue. This is the 26th production since 1994, a strong track record for successful cultural activity and community involvement.

To purchase tickets or arrange for the group discount, visit www.YPTNVA.com or call 703/717-0170.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer who lives in Maryland.

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