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26 June 2007

Jacksonville State Drama Club
Teaches Theatrical Skills to Children

Cole Gaddy, center, tries to make participants smile during an acting exercise at Jacksonville State University’s drama camp Monday. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

By Matt Kasper
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

JACKSONVILLE — It’s 10:30 a.m. and Shea O’Donnell is touching up a cloud.

Carlton Ward, the scene-painting and set-design instructor at Jacksonville State University, shows her how to soften the edges of her wispy, white blob by using the edge of her brush.

Minutes later, the 9-year-old is blotting with the best of ’em.

“I’ll have to hire you all,” Ward yells to the group of about 15 students gathered backstage at the Ernest Stone Performing Arts Center Theater.

Drama camp, it seems, is more than just a week of acting under the spotlight.

This week, for the third year in a row, children from the age of 6 to 13 will learn how to pantomime, paint props and hopefully hit a few high notes in the process.

The set design and acting preparation will culminate with a 20-minute excerpt from the play “Tiny Turkey” in which all 30 children will participate.

Aspiring De Niros and Meryl Streeps from across the county are testing their theatrical skills from 8 a.m. to noon every day, under the direction of the Alpha Psi Omega honorary dramatic fraternity.

Michael Turner, Alpha Psi Omega president, said one of the main goals of the camp is to give children experience in theater. Besides building sets, they sing, play acting games and craft their own costumes.

“They’re the entire production,” he said.

On Monday morning, a dozen children lined up on a barren stage to play an acting-friendly version of the game of telephone.

Under the guidance of Steven DiBlasi, director of the camp, the first actor in line was given a routine to perform for the next person, who was pulled to the side so that people further down the line could not see what was happening.

What started as a jack-in-the-box popping out transformed into a marching soldier.

“The biggest thing is how important your movements are,” DiBlasi said.

Any uncertainty in movements or gestures can become incorporated into a routine if someone is not careful, he said, pointing out to the group how some started shrugging and saluting because the prior person shrugged.

DiBlasi said improvisation is an important part of the camp’s teachings, in part because children respond well to spontaneous direction and interaction.

Early exposure to drama also promotes the possibility of later involvement, he said.

“It’s easier to start if it feels a little silly,” DiBlasi said, noting that discipline can be introduced later.

In some sessions, the more musically active kids come to the front and sing while the rest hang back, he said.

For Daniel Davis, 12, the counselors provide for great instructors.

“They’re all really good actors,” he said.

At any one time ten are on hand for assistance, DiBlasi said.

Nine-year-old Zoe Conn said she wanted to go to drama camp to learn more about how she can be like her favorite actress: Miley Cyrus, who stars on the Disney Channel show Hannah Montana.

“My mom told me that if I went to drama camp it might be the beginning,” she said.

The appeal of professional wrestling attracted Cole Gaddy, 6, to drama camp.

“I really like to learn how to do all the (moves) from the movies,” he said.

About Matthew Kasper

Matthew Kasper covers Jacksonville, Piedmont, Ohatchee and Alexandria for the Star.

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