New community theater group transcends limits

Suzi Eldridge has been involved in community theater almost as long as she can remember, first performing in musicals at age 8.

"I found that performing in theatrical productions built up my self esteem, and provided me with ways to express my creativity," Eldridge said.

Today, Eldridge is the middle school choir director at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, but lives in Sykesville. Once she realized there were no community theater groups serving the North Carroll area specifically, she decided to start a community theater group with the intention of also offering a musical theater summer camp for children.

"Culture is so important to our community and to our children. I was hoping that filling that gap would help our community grow," Eldridge said.

The theater group, Theater Without Limits, will put on a production of "Snoopy the Musical" on June 21, 22 and 23 and will offer a Musical Theater Workshop Camp for youth during the week leading up to and including the performances.

According to Eldridge, the main cast for the musical was selected through auditions a month ago, but "Snoopy the Musical" contains many opportunities for campers to join them onstage in ensemble performances.

"During the week of camp the young performers will learn the choreography and music to three of the ensemble numbers, and will participate as mimes in the song 'The Great Writer' alongside the cast," Eldridge said.

The camp will run from 9 a.m. through 3 p.m. daily from June 17 through 21, and will be open to youth ages 8 through 13 from anywhere in the region.

Each day at the camp will feature instruction from professional actors and musicians, according to Eldridge.

"A different workshop will be presented each day and will include, audition skills, puppetry, stage combat/Shakespeare, scene study/monologues, and vocal technique," Eldridge said.

Some of the professional instructors will include members of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Teresa McCormick Ertel who is a former Walt Disney World puppeteer, and Toni Stefano, a vocal coach with opera training from the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University, according to Eldridge.

"I will make [campers] feel a bit more comfortable voice-wise, so they are not hurting themselves ... So they understand how they should act while they are singing," Stefano said.

The Musical Theater Workshop Camp and "Snoopy the Musical" will both be held at the North Carroll Community School at 75 Lamb Drive in Westminster, where Eldridge's two children attend school.

Eldridge said the school had recently moved into a new building with a theater and was looking for fundraising opportunities, so Eldridge asked if they would be interested in hosting a community theater company that could donate monies left over from productions to the school.

North Carroll Community School co-founder Scot Lynn accepted Eldridge's proposal and said that the theater company seemed like a good fit for the school.

"At our school not only is math and science and reading important, but to us, music and art ... they may be extras elsewhere, but they are not extras to us," Lynn said.

According to Lynn, North Carroll Community school embraces a philosophy of meeting children at whatever skill level they happen to operating.

"We have students that if they were in public school, they would be in gifted and talented programs. We have other kids that if they were in public school, they would struggle with large class sizes and such," Lynn said.

Eldridge said she was so impressed with the school's philosophy, that she took her theater company's name from the North Carroll Community School motto, "learning without limits."

Eldridge said she wanted to incorporate North Carroll Community School's spirit into her theater camp and is encouraging children of all skill levels, and learning styles to come to the camp, including children with physical or learning disabilities.

"The camp is open to bright and talented students ages 8 to 13 of all learning styles who have an interest in learning how to perform on stage, but may or may not have been challenged by shyness, or a learning disability such as dyslexia, anxiety, Tourette's, Asperger's or may be confined to a wheelchair. Campers who come with a lot of experience as well as our counselors and resident actors will be paired up with beginning students and will act as mentors," Eldridge said.

The one restriction on participation, according to Eldridge, is that campers must be able to participate in group activities without the need of an aide.

Eldridge said the camp will maintain a good camper to counselor ratio to ensure every camper has an individualized experience and therefore space will be limited to between 10 and 20 campers.

Registration is available through the Theater Without Limits website at http://www.theaterwithoutlimits.org. The cost is $210 per camper with a non-refundable $50 deposit required at registration and the balance paid by May 1.

Checks and forms should be made out to North Carroll Community School with a memo stating payment is for "TWL camp registration," and then mailed to Artistic Director Suzanne Eldridge, c/o North Carroll Community School, 75 Lamb Drive, Westminster, MD 21157.

"Snoopy the Musical" show times will be 7:30 p.m. on June 21 and 22, and 2 p.m. on both June 22 and 23; campers should plan on being available on all three dates according to Eldridge.

General admission to Snoopy the musical will be $12, seniors and children younger than 18 will be $10 and children younger than 5 years of age will be free.

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