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Children's theater 'just magical'
Drama in the Driveway back this weekend
Drama WEB 1
Directors Hilary Cheeseman, third from right, and Mindy Crawford give instructions to cast members Tuesday during rehearsal for a Drama in the Driveway production. The children’s theater group will perform two shows Friday and Saturday at West Forsyth High. - photo by Autumn Vetter

If you’re going

Drama in the Driveway children’s theater group will present “Beauty and the Beast Junior” and “12 Reasons Not to be in a Play” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the West Forsyth High School auditorium. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.

School may be out for summer, but that won’t keep a group of students from performing at West Forsyth High School this weekend.

Drama in the Driveway children’s summer theater group will present “Beauty and the Beast Junior” and “12 Reasons Not to be in a Play” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at West’s auditorium.

The program began three years ago when Maggie Arias, who was 9 at the time, saw a Vickery Creek Middle School production of “Into the Woods Junior.”

Her mother, Andi Arias, said her daughter “fell in love” with theater.

The girl then asked her mom if she could hold a play in the family’s driveway.

After gathering a group of about 15 school friends, Drama in the Driveway’s first production, “Into the Woods Junior” was held in the summer of 2009.

Every year since then, the group has grown and evolved.

This year’s productions will feature more than 40 students ranging in age from 8 to 14.

In the beginning, Arias and two other mothers — Mindy Crawford and Hilary Cheeseman — taught the students everything.

This year, however, Arias said they were able to get some help from a group of high school students and recent West graduates.

“We have a couple of graduates, a couple of rising seniors and a couple that are going into the 10th grade,” she said.

Matt Salvatore and Sarah Stipe, who graduated last month, are among them.

“We’re in charge of choreography, so we staged all the dance numbers and we taught those, and we’ve been cleaning those up for the past two and a half weeks now,” Salvatore said.

“And then, here and there, we’ve been helping with music and some just general direction things.”

Since “Beauty and the Beast Junior” includes several dance numbers, Arias said she and the other moms wouldn’t have been able to offer that to the students without the high schoolers’ help.

“We couldn’t take on ‘Beauty and the Beast,’” she said. “There’s just no way we [moms] could teach them to dance.”

While the younger students benefit from their older peers’ instruction, the high school students seem to have a good time too.

“It’s been a blast to [work with the younger kids],” Stipe said. “We love them. They’re really on top of everything and enthusiastic. They’re just really fun to work with.”

Added Salvatore: “They bring a totally different energy to theater as opposed to kids our age. They have such vibrancy. It’s awesome to work with them.”

Crawford said the younger students have gained much from their older peers as well.

“It’s a good experience both ways,” she said. “For the younger ones … these [high school students] are like the stars they’ve seen on stage and now they’re teaching them.”

Maggie Arias, the girl whose idea it was to form the group, said she’s happy to be playing one of this year’s lead roles.

“It’s challenging, but it’s really fun,” she said of playing Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.”

“She’s always been my favorite Disney princess.”

As for the mothers who have worked so hard the past two summers, they are pleased the program has remained vibrant since its beginning.

“It’s so nice to see all ranges of experience and levels on the stage and I think the parents really appreciate the final product,” Crawford said.

Cheeseman said a main goal of the program is help kids work together as a team while building self-confidence.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding to see kids that have never stepped foot on a stage and never done this sort of thing before,” she said. “It’s the same as doing a sport. It’s part of being a team.

“I always say to the kids right from the beginning, ‘It’s great that you’re [a lead], but without the small [roles] it doesn’t mean anything.’

“That’s what we push — everybody is important. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got one line or one little singing note … you’re still part of a team.”

Arias added that audiences won’t be disappointed.

“It’s just magical,” she said. “I mean … when you hear them do one of their big numbers, it’s just like it takes your breath away.”