Bringing theater to children

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2012 - 10:09 PM

The Community Arts Center and Dog in the Door Theater for Kids will offer Saturday classes to introduce children to theater.

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From back: Haley Fitzjarrald, Lauryn Ball and Liam Craig let their inner thespian out at Dog in the Door Theater.

Photo: , Photo by Paul Gregerson

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On Saturdays during April, children will gather at the Merrill Community Arts Center in Woodbury to play games such as Simon Says and charades. They'll also sing a few songs and participate in improv exercises. And they will use an assortment of whimsical props to create scenes and characters.

Then, after 90 minutes of activities, it's show time.

What might sound like child's play is Michelle Storm's way of introducing children ages 3 to 14 to the world of theater by allowing them to assemble and perform a different show each week as part of a four-week April Showers Weekend Theater Class.

"Play acting, creativity, dressing up, those are things kids are already doing at home; they just want a forum to show it off," said Storm, who runs Dog in the Door Theater for Kids. "It's a confidence builder, friendship builder, and it's fun, active and it builds language and literacy skills. Kids get fit. We run, we jump and move. And we teach kids what it's like to be in professional theater."

Dog in the Door debuted in 2010 and has run a few camps and classes during school breaks. But Storm, a Woodbury resident, was looking for a venue to offer a more consistent schedule.

Meanwhile, Woodbury Community Theater had a new facility on Rivertown Drive to offer theater classes, but it didn't have the staff or time to devote to them, said Michelle Witte, the theater's executive director.

"We always get requests from parents asking 'How can my kids get into acting?'" Witte said. "We want to facilitate more classes. We wanted to be a home to get those resources."

Storm and Witte connected, and that's led to the April classes that feature age-appropriate activities such as movement, music, script reading, scene work, puppetry and stagecraft. A "Can't Sit Still" class will be offered for ages 3 to 6. One called "Michelle's Marvelous, Messy Trunk" will be offered for ages 7 to 10, and a "Young Bard's Club" will be offered for ages 11 to 14. They each cost $80.

Passing on the joy

Storm works as a substitute teacher for the St. Paul and South Washington County school districts and has performed and taught at CLIMB Theater and Stagecoach Theater Schools. She also has appeared in productions put on by Lakeshore Players in White Bear Lake, Bridge Theater in Stillwater and St. Croix Festival Theater in St. Croix Falls, Wis. Her first theater experience came as a child and included acting in a production at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis.

"I was shy, but being in plays made me feel connected to the community, and to my talents and skills," Storm said. "I want to bring that joy to kids, the way I felt as a child."

Storm, a dog lover, named her theater after a picture of a dog sticking its head through a doggie door that she found online. She said it was striking, funny, entertaining and unexpected -- and in that regard represents what is replicated in her camps and classes.

"It made for the perfect icon," Storm said. She said she hopes the image will communicate that participants will "have fun in a peaceful environment, just like the dog in the door."

"This is a place for everybody. Those who struggle in school can shine," Storm said. "At the end, they don't want to leave."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039, Twitter: @timstrib

  • APRIL SHOWERS WEEKEND THEATER CLASS

    When: Saturdays April 7-28

    Where: Merrill Community Arts Center, 380 Rivertown Drive, Woodbury

    When: 9:30-11:30 a.m. for ages 3-6; noon-2 p.m. for ages 7-10; 2:30-4:30 p.m. for ages 11-14

    Cost, information: $80, 651-501-9273, e-mail classes@doginthedoor.com or go to www.doginthedoor.com

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