Dori Coplan loves the theater.
The 16-year-old Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School junior has acted in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and in the “Spring One Acts.” She’s rehearsing now for her school’s production of “Brigadoon,” but instead of playing Frank the bartender, her part will be Frankie the bartender.
Dori loves plays and musicals so much that she went to downtown’s classic Hippodrome Theatre last fall to see “The Million Dollar Quartet.” She went the next month for “The Nutcracker.” Then she went again on a freezing cold January night so she could enjoy the opening show of “Beauty and The Beast” — from the balcony.
Dori also got to see these shows for free, but she had a job to do. She was on assignment to write reviews. While intently watching and scribbling notes in the darkened theater, she knew that veteran theater critic Geoffrey Himes was sitting a few seats to her right. But Himes was not reviewing the play; he was going to be reviewing Dori’s review.
That’s what students such as Dori do in the Young Critics Program, a writing course organized by the Hippodrome Foundation, Inc. (HFI), the non-profit partner of the Hippodrome Theatre. The Young Critics Program is designed to enhance and develop critical writing skills and foster an appreciation of live theater in high school juniors and seniors.
Dori had her work to do that Tuesday night, but she was also worried about a math test the next morning. Her draft review was due on Sunday.
Just before the show, she joined nine other students in a backstage room, where Himes led a discussion about writing reviews and criticism. A tall, imposing figure, the St. Nick look-alike could have come from Central Casting. But he’s not an actor. Himes has been writing music, theater and film criticism for 38 years for the Baltimore City Paper, the Patuxent newspapers, The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Magazine and many other publications.
Dori listened intently during the class, content to let Himes and the other students take their unrehearsed speaking parts, but finally she made her grand entrance to make a point about writing reviews.
“I sort of go with my gut feeling. Did I like it or not? And why? And then I go from there,” she shared with Himes and the class.
Dori has to attend classes and three productions during the semester and write three drafts of each review. The final review is posted on the Hippodrome Foundation’s website.
“This is a perfect blend between writing and theater,” Dori told the JT.
She really liked “Million Dollar Quartet,” but said it was difficult to review “The Nutcracker” because it was a ballet, and she found herself staring blankly at her computer screen.
Himes was clear about the course’s purpose.
“What I want to get across to them is the importance of rewriting. This is more of a writing course than it is a theater course,” she said.
Barbara Wirsing, HFI’s education director added, “We like to provide opportunities to enrich their understanding of the arts. This gives them exposure and a career angle, showing them what other doors are possible in the field.”
Here’s a portion of what Dori wrote in her first draft:
“But when Belle halts singing and Gaston haughtily saunters on stage, the audience suddenly becomes more captivated with the number. Hager, in his tight, fitted crimson top, black velvet breeches and matching cape, visually encapsulates the animated, childhood Gaston. As he pauses center stage, he begins to comedically pose by patting his hair, flexing and kissing his biceps, and grunts ‘Hutzah!’ to which the audience laughs. Gaston keeps the audience laughing throughout the show not only through his egocentric actions but also his idiocy. At one point, he conceitedly pronounces rendezvous as ‘Ren-des-vuses.’ The audience once again erupts in laughter.”
She concluded by writing that the show “successfully blends childish cartoons with a mature show to successfully entertain every member of the audience. From Gaston’s comical remarks to Belle’s graceful vocals, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a show to see.”
Dori lives with her parents, Lisa and Michael Coplan, in Park Heights. She previously attended Yeshivat Rambam. Last summer, she participated in the University of Maryland Young Scholars Program. She hopes to attend Williams College in Massachusetts and plans to double major in theater and sociology.
Another Beth Tfiloh graduate, Max Spitz of Owings Mills, enjoyed his exp-erience as a Young Critic so much that he is a theater major. The Northwestern University freshman said, “Ideally I hope to be able to perform.”
Spitz’s experience as a Young Critic helped him gain an internship at the Hippodrome Foundation at the end of his junior year of high school, mainly doing grant writing and research.
The Young Critics Program is just one of many free educational and outreach programs sponsored by HFI, whose mission is to maximize community access to the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center through free outreach and education programs. Young Critics is only one of many programs that benefit Beth Tfiloh students. HFI sponsors many master classes at Beth Tfiloh, which involve taking a professional member of a traveling production to the school to teach a class on acting or dancing.