The District has talking trees. And singing trees. Also dancing trees.
Amy Carter loved them. And the National Park Service found them delightful enough to install in 23 city parks throughout the summer.
But you won't find them in your local park, for they're permanently rooted only at the New Theater School, 726 11th St. NW.
The New Theater School is an experimental workshop initiated last year by director Thomasena Davis Allen to provide a creative outlet for community talent.
Since that time, Allen's own talents have produced a 65-minute, 14-song, environmental musical. "The Trees Talk Back," and enough young talent to attract the attention of the National Park Service and Wolf Trap.
Beginning July 5, Allen said the park service will sponsor daily performances by the group in 23 city parks throughout the summer. And they have asked for nine other original, environmental musicals to be presented during the year.
The group also has been asked, she said, to perform at Wolf Trap this fall.
"We'd plan to do a version of The Magic Flute, and we'd want to involve the full ethnic community in that," saidthe 36-year-old Silver Spring resident.
Allen said the theater currently has 65 members from various ethnic backgrounds and age groups.
"I wanted an organization that would concentrate on the development of musicals and be a training ground for a variety of people," she said.
This concept was originally developed, she said, when she and her husband, Paul R. Allen, began the theater 10 years ago.
Free classes are taught in dance, drama and musical composition by six staff members.Allen, a former fine arts and music professor at Texas Southern University, said vaudeville, minstrels, opera and musical revues will be presented because, "We believe musical theater is the most valid contribution the U. S. has made to the world of theater.
"Now there's an underground musical area," she said excitedly, "and that's gospel music. For those people who try to destroy it and say Elvis Presley created gospel music, we feel we can go into the whole underground area and just let it out."
Sharing her love for gospel music is the theater's musical director, Wesley Boyd.
"I met Tommy at Union Temple (Church)," said Boyd. "She had ideas like mine about developing talent on a community level." When they finally put some of their ideas together, said Boyd, they had "talking trees."
"Tommy wrote 'The Trees Back' as a promotional piece to get the school off the ground," said public affairs director Mercer D. Jones. They performed at The Kennedy Center - raising $32,000 in a one-night benefit concert - and received funding from various private and government organizations.
When the cast performed at Stevens School earlier this year, Allen said Amy Carter asked to meet the play's star, Janette Howard, and have her picture take with the cast.
"She said she enjoyed watching the play," Howard reported.
The performances are assisted by the creative costume designs of Elaine Baskin-Bey, formerly a New York designer. Baskin-Bey has designed clothes for such stars as Roberta Flack, Melba Moore and Miles Davis.
"You decide at some point you want to change," she said. "You feel yourself being stifled. It has both nothing to do with money. It's the environment."
The theater group contains a large number of adolescents.
"I like being a character," said i10-year-old Dee Dee Blue who plays a Sun Flower in "Trees." Some children don't get this kind of opportunity."
I'm getting discipline and I like being able to perform in front of an audience," said 12-year-old Janette Howard, who is known as the New Theater's Shirley Temple.
Howard, like many of the younger cast members, knew Allen when she was a teacher at Shadd Elementary School located at 56th and E. Capitol streets, S. E. Allen returned to the school in January to formulate a theater program.
From January to May she said 55 students from Shad and Bancroft Elementary School located at 18th and Newton NW, met with 35 students of Sacred Heart Junior auditorium located at 1625 Park Road, NW.
Not all the cast members are adolescents.
"I was the original Gincko Tree, said 24-year-old Reggie Covingtown who stands as straight and tall as the character he plays, Tree Tree, "I love this theater. The younger kids are difficult, sometimes but they're fun."
"Reggie on a number of productions."
Other members of the eaplays two parts: the Dogwood Tree and Fire.
"It was a member of the Back Alley Theater, and I had worked with Reggie on a number o productions."
Other members of the east cast said they also found the theater interesting and fun.
This summer, Allen said the theater has registered seven preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 7. They already hold classes for senior citizens, and they have formulated a program with St. Elizabeth's Hospital to hold theater workshops for people undergoing drug treatment. That group is called The Last Renaissance.