Friday, October 17, 2003

Players earn their boat ride

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] A paddlewheel is a prop for the Clermont Northeastern Middle School troupe. Gary Branch (left) and Cory Trotter take on the role of stage crew for the fifth-grade presentation.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
"Stage fright'' is not in the vocabulary of Chelsea Meade, a fifth-grader at Clermont Northeastern Middle School.

Hair tucked under her riverboat pilot's hat, and wearing the crisp navy blue uniform of a riverboat man, Chelsea stood off-stage looking confident in front of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation Stage at Tall Stacks' Sawyertown.

She was waiting with 51 of her fellow fifth-graders for their turn in the Tall Stacks limelight.

"I'm the riverboat pilot,'' said Chelsea, who turns 11 Saturday, as mom Denise Meade brushed lint off her shoulders. "I've got seven lines. I talk to the captain. I'm ready to go.''

The troupe from Clermont Northeastern was one of dozens of school groups performing skits, musicals and drama in Sawyertown during Tall Stacks 2003.

The reward for all the performing school groups is enough to ensure that they will take their roles seriously - a post-performance afternoon up and down the Ohio River on one of the riverboats.

If the success of the first two days of Tall Stacks musical acts continues, organizers and Greater Cincinnati Tall Stacks Commission members said they would consider bringing back the musical aspects next year.

"We are thinking about doing the music festival next year combined with the more historical aspects," Tall Stacks marketing director Karen Bender said Thursday. The riverboats would not return next year, Bender said, because the boat owners prefer once every four years.

Bender expected no decision until 2004.

Shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday, teachers Bobbi Bower and Melody Newman organized the fifth-graders on stage as dozens of parents and grandparents clicked away with cameras and an audience of about 200 - most of them other student groups waiting their turns - filled the seats in the outdoor amphitheater.

The Clermont Northeastern kids performed a musical skit, "Steamboat in a Cornfield,'' based on a children's book by John Hartford about a Civil War-era steamboat that got stranded in a cornfield after a flood.

Ten-year-old Troy Miller had the lead playing the captain of the Virginia, the stranded steamboat. He had 11 lines to learn, and he and Chelsea had practiced their captain-pilot dialogue for hours.

"It's fun,'' Troy said, "And you learn a lot about steamboats, too.''

As the kids piled off the stage and gathered around their teachers, 10-year-old Jacob Syndor unbuttoned the top button on his collar. Wearing a gray fedora with a press card stuck in the brim, he had played the newspaper reporter who asked the riverboat captain one simple, direct question: "How did the Virginia get stuck?''

He had performed his role flawlessly and was ready to move on.

"OK,'' Jacob said, echoing the sentiments of his classmates, "now for the boat ride!''


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