Summer school

Say you're a teenager. It's June and summer is ready to roll around. You have a few choices. You can get a summer job, spend your summer sleeping in late and hanging at the pool, or go right back into a school building and learn more.

Few would probably choose the last example. But spending the summer inside a school building is exactly what kids from the around the region are doing as part of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts' annual Teen Professional Theatre.

And from the popularity of the program, it seems most kids couldn't imagine a better way to spend their summers.

Take Adam Vaughn. The 16-year-old rising junior at Oakland Mills High School has been acting since he nabbed a role in the chorus of a third-grade play. After a stint at the Elkridge-based Schoolhouse Theatre Arts program, he discovered the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts through his drama teacher, Steve Fleming, who works at the center each summer.

After hearing about the program, Vaughn elected to stay away from the pool for a while and broaden his acting skills from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

"It's been a great experience," says the Columbia resident. "You get to meet a lot of professional people and a lot of really talented directors."

Yeah, but isn't it difficult to be inside a building sweating over how to play a part while other kids are running wild?

"Well, it's a lot to prepare for every day," Vaughn admits. "I sort of think of it as a school day almost. Most people would think 'Wow, that's a lot of work.'"

But, he says, if theater is what you want to do with your life, this is the place to be.

"We do monologues and 16-bar song (snippets) in order to prepare for auditions for colleges and theater productions," says Vaughn, who is part of the large ensemble cast. "If you're planning to go into theater as your career, it's a good way to get you prepared for what's out there in the real world."

Ah yes, the real world. Steven Fleming knows it well, having gone off to college, acted professionally and taught theater.

And the 29-year-old believes Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts' 9-year-old teen program has grown into something special over the years.

"When this program started it was very much 'Let's do a show!" Fleming says. "But we always thought there was something else that needed to be there. And when we figured out it was putting in classes, I think that's what started to separate us from other theatrical program."

The students, Fleming says, take classes in everything from tap dancing to resume-writing and how to audition.

"They also go through a series of workshops and classes where they get to work with experts in various fields and prepare themselves on a level that is more than they can get in high school," he adds.

According to the center's executive director, Melissa Woodring Rosenberg, the troupe's focus is to offer talented area kids rigorous education in the dramatic arts.

"It's an audition-based program for advanced musical theater students," Rosenberg explains. "The idea is that you're bringing together all these kids who have probably been leads at their own high schools and you're putting them in a professional setting."

The play's the thing

Last year, the program gathered together some 56 kids to stage a spirited rendition of the musical "Ragtime." The year before, 44 kids brought "Les Miserable" to life.

This year a bumper crop of young actors — 62 in all — have been convening every weekday at Reservoir High School in Fulton to try their collective hands at a revival of the Elton John-Tim Rice Broadway musical "Aida."