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Dogs and ducks: Kids learn life lessons in theater camp

If you're going to cast young children in a play that teaches them about acceptance, confidence, tolerance and potential, "The Ugly Duckling" is a splendid choice.

A cast of children from Woodbury and Maplewood gave a stirring performance of the Hans Christian Andersen classic last Thursday at Shawnee Park.

The show was the culmination of the annual Dog in the Door theater camp, a four-day workshop taught by Michelle Storm, a literacy teacher at St. Paul City School.

"I love that story because it reminds me how children bloom and how they can reach their potential," Storm said following the Thursday finale.

The cast included Adam Leng and Alicia Silva, both 6.

Madeline Griggs, 10, played a duck and a swan.

"What I like about it is that you get to do fun things," she said.

"I like being with my friends and making up plays," said Samantha Funk, 9.

Toni Malone of Maplewood beamed as her son Matthew 14, took a bow with the rest of the cast. Matthew, who has Down Syndrome, will start at Woodbury Senior High School in the fall. Toni Malone said her son has become more outgoing since working with Dog in the Door theater camp. This was his third time with the group. During the three-day rehearsal process, Matthew and fellow cast members practiced improvisation, voice and body exercises and line memorization.

"He's able to get with peers that have the same interest as he does," his mother said. "I've noticed that social interaction has been an asset. When he goes into other areas of the community, he is then able to reach and out and communicate with much more confidence."

Mackenzie Fried, 9, played the title character, who grew from a homely member of the mallard family into a beautiful long-necked swan. Mackenzie appeared to stay in character after the show, as she cradled a bouquet of flowers from her grandparents, Tom and Kelsey.

"The hardest part," she said, in reply to a reporter's question, "is actually saying goodbye to all this."

Other park theater camps for various ages are scheduled for the fall. For more information, call Woodbury Parks and Recreation at 651-714-3583 or visit ci.woodbury.mn.us.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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