While a subdivision cul de sac may not seem a likely stage, it was perfect for Maggie Arias.
Three summers ago, the then 9-year-old Vickery Creek Elementary student saw a Vickery Creek Middle School production of “Into the Woods Junior.”
Her mom, Andi Arias, said the girl “fell in love” with theater.
Maggie Arias was so inspired she asked her mom if she could hold a play in the family’s driveway.
“She said she just couldn’t wait to get to middle school to do a show,” Andi Arias said.
Added her daughter: “I just saw that show and had a passion for it. I said, ‘Please mommy, don’t make me wait until middle school to be in a show.’”
Maggie Arias said her older brother, Grayson, who is in a band, had previously held concerts in their cul de sac.
“I asked my mom if my brother could hold concerts in the cul de sac, then why couldn’t we have a play there too,” she said.
Andi Arias said she had some reservations, but couldn’t really argue. So in summer 2009, a children’s theater group called Drama in the Driveway was born.
Andi Arias said that first show, another rendition of “Into the Woods Junior,” had about 15 students from the Vickery Creek Elementary School district.
“Maggie went to school and got all her friends on the playground,” she said. “She’d sing something from the show and ask, ‘Can you sing that? OK, you’re this part.’”
Andi Arias said Mindy Crawford, a friend from another neighborhood, agreed to let the students rehearse in her garage the first few weeks of summer break. Crawford now serves as stage manager of the group.
“Cheese puffs and Gatorade held us through every day of rehearsal,” Maggie Arias said.
Last summer, the acting company continued, again with “Into the Woods Junior” and the addition of “Little Red and the Riding Hoods.”
Andi Arias said the two shows had a combined cast of about 35, and the students were able to take their productions out of the driveway and into an actual venue.
“I called the Cumming Playhouse and asked if we could use their facility while they were in between shows,” Andi Arias said. “At first they said no, but then I told them our story and they agreed.”
This year the group, which has grown to about 60, is readying for its production of “Alice in Wonderland Junior” and an adapted version of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“Last summer our theme was everything that happens while in the woods, and this year it’s everything that happens while you dream,” explained Andi Arias.
The students, which range in age from rising second-graders to ninth-graders, will have the chance to perform on an even larger stage this year.
Thanks to an arrangement with the school’s drama director, this summer’s show will be held Friday and Saturday in the West Forsyth High auditorium.
Rehearsals are held at The Warehouse, a student ministry and coffee house in Midway Park.
Andi Arias said she’s been somewhat surprised by the growth of the program.
“It’s mostly just been word of mouth,” she said. “Students will hear about it or come see the shows and e-mail saying they want to take part.”
Most of the male cast members, she joked, were “dragged here because they’re brothers of girls who wanted to participate.”
The cast has also grown to include many cousins and other family members of the original cast. She said the organization “has become official.”
“We opened our own checking account this year,” she said, noting that each family pays $150 to cover production licensing fees and costume and set costs.
Tickets to the show, which includes both plays, are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors, which also go toward production costs.
Besides her own daughter’s passion, Arias said the organization has sparked a love of theater in many students.
“We’ve had several go on to do other shows with production companies like Gypsy Theatre Company and Off Broadway Kids,” she said. “Maggie got cast in a show at the Fox [Theatre] recently too.”
Adrianne Crawford, who’s been in every show, said she’s made many friends through the process.
“I like how it keeps growing and growing,” she said.
Taylor Staton, who joined last summer, agreed.
“It’s really fun meeting a lot of new people,” she said.
Andi Arias said she’s not sure what the future holds for the group, but said it will go on for at least a few more years.
“We try to keep the ages to elementary and middle school kids,” she said. “But maybe as our kids get older, we’ll just increase the ages.”
It appears she won’t have a hard time finding student actors to carry on the organization.
“It’s just so much fun. I keep coming back because it’s so fun,” Tallie Cheeseman said. “And the cool thing is it all started in a driveway.”