Homegrown talent: Home-schooled thespians bring new life to Little Women
by Erin Williams
Special to The Star
Apr 28, 2013 | 3378 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Left to right: Samuel Thrasher as old man Lawrence, Savannah Blair as Aunt March and Louisa Nelson as Marmee act out a scene during the dress rehearsal for ‘Little Women’ at the Anniston-Calhoun County Library. Photo: Brooke Carbo/The Anniston Star
Left to right: Samuel Thrasher as old man Lawrence, Savannah Blair as Aunt March and Louisa Nelson as Marmee act out a scene during the dress rehearsal for ‘Little Women’ at the Anniston-Calhoun County Library. Photo: Brooke Carbo/The Anniston Star
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For most students, there comes a time at one point or another when they are forced to swallow their fears, step into the spotlight and assume the role they’ve been given. That’s right — the school play.

It’s a ritual that has produced many a yearbook photo, perhaps paved the way to a career path for a few — or, at worst, produced a terrible bout of stage fright.

But for home-schooled students who are forced to seek out alternative forms of arts and entertainment, thespian options can be limited.

That void was the ideal backdrop for the Class Act Performers, an acting club comprised of home-schooled students created five years ago by parent and director Melissa Webster. The idea came to her when her eldest daughter, whom she has homeschooled since kindergarten, developed an interest in drama.

“These are just regular kids doing regular things ... they just don’t have this opportunity in a school setting,” said Webster, who also educates her three younger children from home. “So we created this opportunity for them.”

While her daughter, now 18, had participated in other small community productions, Webster, who minored in theater at JSU, sought to create something different.

Webster adheres to the motto “Every child is a star.”

“Most theaters will cast based on the best actors or actresses,” she said “I do not always do that.”

The troupe has grown to 40 home-schooled students ranging from ages 5-18 in Cleburne, Calhoun, Etowah and Talladega counties. The practice once a week with the LEAD Homeschool Co-op, and have done around 10 productions, ranging from classic literature to fantasy, even variety shows. But getting young actors up on stage isn’t always easy to accomplish on a first go round.

“There have been many times that a parent has told me that ‘I don’t think my child would do this’...and then by the end of the semester everybody is wowed by this child standing on [the] mainstage and giving a monologue,” she said. “I love bringing out the potential in each of these students — not just drama, but also socially and public speaking-wise.”

As with any independent arts organization, it can be hard to secure stable costs. Students pay a general class fee to participate, and the group also relies on sponsorships and sales of ad space on their programs and the website. But the support Webster receives from parents helps the group’s success “more than anything,” she says. “It takes all of us to have a successful show — some are helping with costume and set changes ... some are taking pictures ... some are giving words of encouragement to nervous actors. Without the families, it would be almost impossible to be successful.”

Class Act Performers’ upcoming production of “Little Women” at the Anniston-Calhoun County Public Library on April 30 at 4 p.m. is really striving for authenticity, right down to the furniture, some of which is on loan from local bed and breakfast The Parker House. The students are just as enamored of the costumes and their characters — but don’t expect a “by the book” production of the March sisters in action.

“They bring their own personalities, but yet they also become the character,” said Webster.

Fans of Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale are in for one big difference, though.

“But I don’t want to say what that is at the moment. That is just going to be part of the show,” she said. “Everybody works together and we have wonderful actors and productions, and they always take my breath away. It’s just amazing what children are able to do.”
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