Correction to This Article
The article on Silver Spring's Lumina Studio Theatre misidentified a member of the group's board of directors. She is Sandy Moore, not Sandy George.

Youth Theater's Founder Was a Much-Loved Taskmaster

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 6, 2008

At Silver Spring's Lumina Studio Theatre on Sunday, it was a scene of intense drama in a room full of actors. But no one was acting.

Sandy Moore, a member of the group's board of directors, had opened the day's rehearsal with an announcement that Lumina's popular founder, Jillian Raye, 62, had died a few hours earlier after a long battle with cancer. The effect on her young proteges, ranging in age from 8 to 18, was immediate and unscripted.

"I looked over, and these two young boys, maybe 13, just go purple in the face and start to sob," Moore said. "It was really, really hard. She was just very important to these kids."

And not just to the kids. Word of Raye's death spread quickly through Lumina's sizable following: the hundreds of alumni, some of whom have gone on to professional stage careers; the parents who drive their kids to countless rehearsals; and the arts advocates who hail the theater as a unique cultural asset. Many wondered whether the theater would survive its founder.

"If we were to lose this, my daughter would lose an outlet I'm not sure she could find any place else as a teenager in Montgomery County," said Mary Anderson of Silver Spring, whose 13-year-old attended a Lumina summer camp in 2006 and has been in numerous productions since. "It has opened up a whole new look at life for her."

For 11 years, in a county where parents famously overload their children's after-school schedules, Lumina has enjoyed a nearly cultlike following for providing something more substantial than once-a-week soccer or piano lessons. Raye's lavishly produced adaptations of Shakespeare, written with her husband and collaborator, David Minton, had live music, elaborate costumes, tight staging and performers as young as third-graders.

"This is a real troupe, and these are real productions," said Cynthia Terrell of Takoma Park, who has had three children in numerous Lumina shows in the past four years. "There are very few kids' activities involving so many generations doing something so ambitious over such a long period of time. It's sure a lot more than 9-year-olds doing cartwheels."

For each show, Lumina students commit to 13 weeks of weekly afternoon rehearsals, plus weekend sessions lasting up to four hours, at the theater's rehearsal studio on Pershing Drive. Two casts perform three shows each, usually at Silver Spring's Round House Theatre.

An Australian, Raye came to this country in the mid-1970s. She was known as an exacting, flamboyant and often profane instructor who insisted that even the youngest actors could master Elizabethan dialogue and the finer points of stage acting. A few left after the first few rehearsals, Minton said. But many more come back, show after show.

"She would never make anyone feel bad about themselves, but there is a difference between good behavior and bad behavior and good acting and bad acting, and she would point out both," Minton said.

For some, a Lumina part inspired a lifelong pursuit.

"They never dumb it down for you, even if you're just 12 years old," said Lizzi Albert of Silver Spring, 20, a junior in the theater program at New York University. Albert traces her ambition for a career in theater to her seventh-grade start in a Lumina production of "Love's Labour's Lost" that was set in the 1920s.

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