JOLIET – Just as director Lori Carmine told the actors to get to their places two questions came up.
“Can I get a drink of water?”
“Can I go to the bathroom?”
They’re the kind of questions an acting teacher might expect when her students are first grade through fifth. But Carmine understands.
“When I was in first grade, I took classes here,” she said Saturday while getting ready for the first of two morning sessions in the theater at Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park. An older group of students from sixth through 12th grades would come in the next session.
Most who go through the classes are not destined for careers in theater or film. But a few have been.
Carmine mentioned Anthony Rapp, a Broadway and film actor who appeared in both the stage and movie versions of “Rent,” and Paul Dillon, a character actor in movies and TV, as two who have gone through the youth drama classes at Bicentennial Park.
“Paul Dillon started out as a gnome,” Carmine said, referring to the annual “Festival of Gnomes” performance at the theater during Christmastime.
Finding their niche
Bicentennial Park hosts six-week sessions of Class Act drama classes in the fall and winter. Summertime On-Stage is held for four weeks in June and July.
“Parents have told me how shy their kids were. Then they get onstage, and they’re completely different,” Carmine said. “Theater is a great place for people to find their niche. It’s an even playing field.”
Bill Hogan brought his 10-year-old son, Reid, to the class Saturday. His older daughter had been in the classes but since became more interested in music, Hogan said.
“At this point in life, [Reid] really enjoys doing this. Lori does a nice job. The kids have a lot of fun,” Hogan said. “You’ve got to give your kids a chance to try everything, so they can find the right thing.”
Matthew Lanoue of Channahon was at Bicentennial Park with his daughter, Paige, 11, and said, “It’s just fun to watch the little kids – first-graders to older ones. You can tell the kids that have done it for years and years. They help out the younger ones.”
Besides the fun, Lanoue believes the children get good training on breathing, diction and memory.
“They have to learn some long lines,” he said.
At the end of the six-session class, the children will perform “The White Spider’s Gift,” a one-act play based on a South American folktale.
Carmine talked with two of the boys, who were to perform a fight scene.
“Do I win?” was 7-year-old Cooper Ores’ question.
Asked later what he likes about the class, Cooper simply replied, “It’s fun.”
But his father, Jim Ores, said the class feeds an interest Cooper shows at home.
“He’s got a lot of ideas,” Ores said. “He’s got more costumes than anybody. He likes wearing them.”
Kena Schreiner said her daughter, Abigail, 8, has developed an interest in theater at Eisenhower Academy, where she goes to school and has been in the school play.
“She just loved it,” Schreiner said. “They did singing and dancing.”
Schreiner said she enjoys watching Carmine work with the children even during the warm-up exercises as their enthusiasm for the rehearsal begins to build.
Among those in the second session for older students is Anthony McDonald, 16, who has been coming to the drama classes since he was 7.
“They’re pretty awesome,” McDonald said.
He remembers his first play, “The Sound of Music,” in which McDonald played a goat. In more recent years he has performed with the Joliet Drama Guild, a community theater group that also uses the Bicentennial Park theater, in “Bye Bye Birdie.”
Serena Magosky’s daughter, Serenita, 6, is the third generation in her family to take drama classes at Bicentennial Park.
“As soon as she was born, I brought her here,” Magosky said. “When she was three months old, I brought her to the ‘Gnomes.’”
Her daughter has big plans.
“She says she wants to be red-carpeting at 19,” Magosky said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
BICENTENNIAL PARK YOUTH DRAMA CLASSES
• Class Act – Six sessions on Saturdays in two groups: grades one through five and grades six through 12. Held in fall and winter.
• Summertime On-Stage – Four-week summer theater camp for ages 5 through 18. Classes run Mondays through Thursdays. Ends with public performance of a musical.
For more information, visit www.bicentennialpark.org.