Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Imagination takes off during open house

Bethesda theater offer teens a chance to hone a variety of skills

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Naomi Brookner⁄ The Gazette
Jackie Bautista (left), a 13-year-old from Ashton, and Ray Paleg, 13, of Silver Spring, practice their dance moves during a sample class at Bethesda's Imagination Stage. The theater hosted a Teen Open House Thursday, giving sixth through 12th grade students from the area and opportunity to try some of the theater's classes.
Ray Paleg walked to the middle of the floor and confidently said, ‘‘You sunk my battleship.”

But there was no game board or submarines or aircraft carriers in sight.

Instead, the 13-year-old from Silver Spring was in the middle of an improv lesson.

Paleg, along with nearly 20 other teens, took the opportunity Thursday night to take sample classes at Imagination Stage in downtown Bethesda, during the group’s Teen Open House.

Imagination Stage, a nonprofit family arts center, offered classes in everything from improv to dancing, as well as discussions about filmmaking and digital media.

The theater opened in 1979, as the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts, and held a handful of classes at the Whittier Woods Center and Whit Flint Mall. It moved into its new location, on Auburn Avenue in downtown Bethesda, in 2003.

In the night’s improv class, students learned how to be funny without necessarily making jokes.

One game, called the three-line game, began with one person making a declarative statement, like ‘‘You sunk my battleship.”

A partner would respond, building on the original statement.

‘‘I really like acting,” said Eric Morrel, 14, of Bethesda, after the improv class. ‘‘The three-line game was my favorite though, because it shows how you can set up a whole scene in just three lines.”

While some students were new to Imagination Stage, others had taken classes before, and were interested in branching out into new fields.

‘‘I’m trying to see other things,” said 12-year-old Charlotte Baton, of Bethesda, who regularly takes music classes at the theater. ‘‘I really want to get into musical theater, and would like to act and sing and perform.”

Baton took a sample dance class, sliding and stepping to moves from the musical ‘‘Hairspray.”

While she had never done the routine before, she said the teacher helped her feel comfortable.

‘‘The teachers get you right into it,” she said. ‘‘I know I want to come back.”

In addition to sample classes, the teens also had the opportunity to sit in on a presentation by Eduardo Sanchez, the writer and director of ‘‘The Blair Witch Project.”

The director, who graduated from Wheaton High School, discussed his latest film, ‘‘Seventh Moon.”

Imagination Stage hosts open houses twice a year, according to Brett Ashley Crawford, director of education marketing.

The open houses serve as opportunities not only for area residents to visit the theater, but also for the theater to promote itself.

‘‘For the teens it’s a chance for them to come, hang out with their peers and see if there’s anything that interests them,” she said. ‘‘For us, it’s a chance to let people know we’re out there, and at no cost to them.”

The open house was for students in sixth through 12th grades.

Since the theater moved to its new location on Auburn Avenue in 2003 enrollment has increased, Crawford said. The theater now offers more workshops and supplemental classes for older teens hoping to hone their skills.

‘‘With the teens, it’s a group that is getting into professional training,” she said. ‘‘While the younger students may take classes for fun, or to learn interpersonal skills, some of the teens are really figuring out what they want to do with their lives.”

Imagination Stage serves more than 4,500 students a year, Crawford said.

The night was a success, at least for one prospective student.

‘‘I’m a fun person who enjoys fun things, and this was fun,” Morrel said. ‘‘And who doesn’t like double fun?”

Something foreveryone

Imagination Stage offers classes for children of all ages, from one to 18. Class offerings range from dance and improv to filmmaking and singing. For more information, visit, or call 301-280-1660.