To Be Or Not To Be Ready To Rock U. Dublin Students Will Be Ready When The Curtain Rises On A Shakespeare-influenced Musical.

Posted: May 09, 1999

FORT WASHINGTON — Snapping out a quick beat, Kalia Booker led her classmates through the bouncy moves she had choreographed for the opening number of Return to the Forbidden Planet, a quirky mix of rock-and-roll and Shakespeare.

She didn't let her Timberland construction boots weigh her down as she demonstrated the twist, the swim, the monkey and some original dance steps she had blended together for the Sixties song ``Wipe Out.''

During a 55-minute class period Monday, Booker and the 11 other students worked nonstop for their new advanced-theater course at Upper Dublin High School, getting ready for a May 21 opening. The eight dancers were full of energy and laughter but stayed focused on Booker, even as she stopped to review notes she had scribbled. The three other students were busy practicing their lines.

Sitting to the side, watching the teenagers pick up the dance moves with ease, was teacher Debbie Thompson, who designed the curriculum for the advanced course this year. She also teaches the Theater 1 class, which she started during the 1997-98 school year.

``I've got the creme de la creme here,'' Thompson said. ``They've helped me build the theater program. They've been consistent with it.''

Her students, who rehearse after school and give up their weekends for the elective course, are equally fond of Thompson.

``She doesn't say there's a set way to get things done,'' said 11th grader Rachel Kahn, student director for the musical. ``She says the process is the most important part; the way we get to the final product is probably more important than the product itself. That gives us an opportunity to take chances.''

Thompson said the class enabled the students to grow - and not only as actors and directors.

``They learn to work as a team, be flexible, give and take, make a commitment,'' she said. ``That's why I think theater has so much more to offer. It teaches us a lot about everyday living.''

Thompson's life has revolved around theater for more than 20 years. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island in 1974, she acted in off-Broadway productions, did summer stock and traveled with touring companies.

Nine years ago she started directing the productions at Sandy Run Middle School in Upper Dublin. Three years later she initiated the Summer Stage program for the Upper Dublin Township Parks and Recreation Department, geared to sixth through 12th graders.

Thompson hooked up with the high school as director and Drama Club adviser three years ago. When the high school decided to offer theater as an elective, Thompson said, she was in the right place at the right time.

``Her contribution has been outstanding,'' said principal Bob Field. ``She works the kids real hard, and the results are evident. Unlike most programs, people see the results of everything she does. What she does has tremendous accountability, and it shows.''

Thompson's Theater 1 course, which has 21 students in ninth through 12th grades, covers improvisation, voice and diction techniques and pantomime.

With the advanced theater class, ``I go right to the meat,'' she said.

For the first several months, the students studied and researched acting techniques, examined different directing styles and explored theater history. In March they started work on Return to the Forbidden Planet.

``Before they can do anything vocally with the script, they have to be able to interpret Shakespeare's language and know what they're saying,'' Thompson said. ``It's a campy piece . . . but it's challenging.''

In addition to the acting, the students are responsible for costumes, set design and publicity. A five-piece professional band will accompany the students as they sing and dance to music from the Beach Boys, James Brown, the Moody Blues, Elvis and others.

About half the class had worked with Thompson in middle school or Summer Stage. Four of the six seniors, including Booker, are planning to study music or theater in college.

Booker, who will major in theater at Spelman College in Atlanta, said, ``This class seems laid back, but it's the one I do the most work for.''

IF YOU GO * Performances of ``Return to the Forbidden Planet'' are scheduled for 8 p.m. May 21 and 3 and 8 p.m. May 22 in the West Gym at Upper Dublin High School, Loch Alsh Avenue, Fort Washington. Tickets are $5. For information, call 215-643-8900, ext. 172.