Jaden Burnett, 15, of Bowie said she shares quite a few personality traits with the character of Tinker Bell, the sassy, energetic and kind-hearted pixie she will play in an upcoming Laurel Mill Playhouse production of Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.
But mostly, she said she identifies with the character’s uplifting message.
“Tinker Bell speaks to me because for one of the songs that we sing, ‘Fly to your heart,’ it’s basically just saying, ‘follow your dreams and what you believe in,’” said the Bowie High School sophomore, adding she hopes to become an environmental engineer while continuing to pursue acting as a hobby. “It’s really supposed to get through to the audience, ‘just don’t let go of your dreams.’”
Show producer Laila Riazi of Cheverly said the play, which opens Aug. 1 and runs weekends through Aug. 24, teaches its young actors more than just acting skills. Whether they have been participating in theater for years or are trying it out for the first time, she said the children are gaining confidence in their public speaking abilities and learning about teamwork in the all-volunteer production.
“We have an incredibly small stage, and some magic happens on that stage,” Riazi said.
Aside from the 33 actors, who are between the ages of 6 and 18, parent volunteers are working backstage, building the set, finding or making needed costumes and making sure everything runs smoothly.
The production is part of the Summer Youth Musical Production series Laurel Mill Playhouse has been running for the past 11 years, but Riazi is part of a new director-producer-musical director team that took over the show this year from its previous producers, who moved on for personal reasons, according to theater officials.
Riazi said about 50 children auditioned in May and 33 were cast in the play.
“I love the junior productions because it gives every child a chance,” said Rebecca Feibel-Kotraba of Odenton, the show’s director. “Children everywhere need to find a way to feel special and they need to find an outlet for their talents.”
Feibel-Kotraba, who has been involved in children’s theater for the past 19 years, said that giving children an opportunity to participate in a play is particularly valuable in light of recent cuts to public school art programs.
“How do you even know how to speak aloud, how to project,” Feibel-Kotraba said. “You need to be taught these skills in school and they don’t teach these skills because they don’t have time.”
Vicky Thompson of Laurel said the play is “a teaching time” for her sons, Nathaniel, 13, and Eli, 6, who are both home-schooled and participating in a theatrical production for the first time.
“They’re getting the opportunity to work with kids who have acted before,” she said. “They’re given the opportunity to learn how to speak up and more assertively.”
General admission tickets are $20.
For more information, visit www.laurelmillplayhouse.org.