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An Interview With Theater Without Limits’ Suzi Eldridge on Summer Camp and ‘Snoopy!’ by Teresa McCormick Ertel

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THEATER WITHOUT LIMITS: CARROLL COUNTY MARYLAND SUMMER CAMP FOR CHILDREN OF ALL LEARNING STYLES AND ABILITIES

Suzi Eldridge shares her passion her bringing an inclusive acting program to the community that pairs actors, both well trained and aspiring, for Snoopy! The Musical.

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Teresa: Tell us about the inception of Theater Without Limits. What sparked the idea?

Suzi: Last summer when North Carroll Community School, was making the transition from a small storefront school to the beautiful campus off of route 97, they reached out to the community to see if there were creative out of the box ways to develop the space and to help bring in funds for the school. The school’s motto “learning without limits” really touched me, and after observing their creative ways of teaching, I really wanted to help them in any way I could. I approached the head of school Scott Lynn, about the idea of renting the space to bring a summer theater company and camp in, and he immediately said, “YES.”

I did not have any start up funds for this, so I looked around for grant opportunities. Carroll County Arts Council was the first place I looked and they had a Community Arts Grant Application on their website. After reading through the grant application, I realized for an undertaking this big I would need to have a support of professionals that I could get advice from and bounce ideas off of. I assembled a board of professional writers, musicians an occupational therapist and an accountant to be sure that the business, artistic, and educational aspects of the company were covered. Once the team was assembled, we met to discuss the vision, name of the company, and mission. We applied for the grant and were fortunate enough to receive one!

Why is theater such a valuable experience for children and specifically those with different learning abilities?

There didn’t seem to be a niche for this type of company in Carroll County. After moving there eleven years ago, I found myself driving to Frederick and Baltimore to perform and direct. There were two well established community theater companies in the area, one being Carroll Players, and the other being September song.

Recently TACTICC was created in the South Carroll Area, but there was still nothing much in the Northern part of the county. As a child I was surrounded by the richness of theater. Being an “out of the box” learner myself, I found that performing in theatrical productions built up my self esteem, and provided me with ways to express my creativity. Ultimately leading me to my life’s work. The members of our theater community became like a second family, and I still keep in contact with many of them today. Having that sort of richness in culture is so important to our community and to our children. I was hoping that filling that gap would help our community grow.

Kevin Dalessandro (Linus), Rose Hahn (Sally), and Megan Dalessandro (Patty). Photo by Heather Fillmore.

Kevin Dalessandro (Linus), Rose Hahn (Sally), and Megan Dalessandro (Patty). Photo by Heather Fillmore.

Many children in our community never get the opportunity to perform because they are shy, have a learning disability like dyslexia that prevent them from doing a “cold reading” well. Maybe they have a physical challenge, are in a wheelchair which may cut them out of a dance number or even prevent them from being cast, but they love to perform. Auditioning for them is a huge challenge and in creating an opportunity for kids like this to perform in a company alongside seasoned actors and musicians without the pressure of a traditional audition, and with the guidance of a supportive staff is what Theater Without Limits aims to accomplish.

What is a typical day’s experience for a camper?

The camp runs from 9:00 until 3:00. At morning arrival – the campers will participate in a variety of theater games and improvisation exercises to get them warmed up and comfortable. After warm-ups, members of the Baltimore theater community will come in to run workshops with the students.

We have Kevin Costa, Founding member of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company running a clowning workshop, Toni Stefano, vocal coach and Peabody Graduate running the Vocal technique sessions, Teresa Ertel, former Disney Puppeteer running a puppetry workshop, and with the help of the cast of Snoopy, I will be running an audition workshop and scene study workshop. The workshop sessions will last approximately 90 minutes.

After the workshops we will have lunch and outdoor recess time. In the afternoon, students will work on the songs and choreography for Snoopy! The Musical to allow them to be part of the ensemble in the show that weekend along with the company actors. Members of the Snoopy cast will be on hand in the afternoon to work with the campers. We will also have a hair and make-up artist come in to teach the kids about stage make up and get them ready before the show.

Xavier LaDane (Snoopy) and Hugh Carson (Charlie Brown) work on a duet. Yes Snoopy is quite the "Great Flier." Photo by Heather Fillmore.

Xavier LaDane (Snoopy) and Hugh Carson (Charlie Brown) work on a duet. Yes Snoopy is quite the “Great Flier.” Photo by Heather Fillmore.

What is your theater background?

Performing since the age of 8, in over 200 musicals and choral performances. I attended the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan as a Vocal Music Major, Tanglewood institute, Mannes Conservatory Prep, received my Bachelor’s in Music Education at University of Buffalo and my Master’s in Arts Management at Towson.

Locally I have performed with Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, Maryland Ensemble Theatre, Glyndon Area Players, and Maryland Arts Festival. I have been teaching music and theater for 17 years and I am currently the Middle School OnStage director at McDonogh School in Baltimore. I am the mother of two boys ages 5 and 11 who are “outside the box” thinkers and proud of it!

More about the Summer Camp:

The camp is open to bright and talented students ages 8-13 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 or 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.

We will approach each camper as an individual and find out how they learn best – whether through watching, listening, or participating in the activities we present to them. The camper – counselor ratio will be small enough to allow each camper to have an individualized experience. For more information about the camp, or our main production Snoopy! The Musical, please e-mail Artistic Director Suzanne Eldridge at Theaterwithoutlimits@gmail.com or visit our website.

 Snoopy the musical

Snoopy! The Musical will be performed at North Carroll Community School – 75 Lamb Drive, in Westminster, MD on June 21st, 22nd, and 23rd. Starting time is 7:30 pm on the 21st and 22nd and 2:00 pm on the 22nd and 23rd. Tickets are $10 for seniors and children (under 18). General admission is $12. Children under 5 years old are free. This show is open to the general public.

Summer Camp is limited to 20 students and registration will be open through the last week in May.

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