After six years of directing the Howard University Children's Theater on a voluntary basis, Kelsey Collie says he just can't do it anymore.
Overburdened by the workload, Collie said. "It's taken a toil on me and my family."
The parents of the more than 200 youngsters who participate in the year-round theater recently were notified of the resignation by letter. Collie says he will continue as director for a few months until a replacement is found.
In addition to his many duties at the theater, Collie teaches four theater-arts classes at Howard and directs the drama department's touring company.
"I laughingly say I'm married to this department," he said. "I spend more time here than at home."
Because of his marriage to the department, Collie said, he has missed too many wedding anniversaries with his wife Doris and too many birthdays with their two teen-aged children. His marriage to his career is now over, he insists, unless he receives some help.
"If I can get the staff I need I wouldn't have to do everything. I wouldn't have to be the program director, business manager, secretary and public-relationist. I would definitely say, knowing all of the burden isn't on me," he said.
Last Saturday, parents and university administrators met at the Ira Aldridge Theater to discuss the children's theater and the prospects for keeping Collie as director.
"The meeting was held to give the Executive Board (made up of parents of children in the program) information," according to Henri Edmonds, chairwoman of the drama department. Nothing definite was decided at the meeting, Edmonds said.
Although university policy prohibits staff members from accepting pay for work in extended departmental programs, Edmonds said the children's theater appears to fall outside this catergory and Collie should be compensated for his time.
"I think if there's a distinct, separate kind of community service people are rendering, it should be paid for," she said. "(The theater) has been one of the most successful programs we've had in the drama department. It is our biggest community outreach . . . In the children's theater you not only reach out to the community, you interact with it."
Albert Johnson, a 12-year-old from Chevy Chase, is just one of the dozen success stories that have come out of the theater.
Last year Johnson and Anthony Powell, also with the theater, were selected to join a European theater company performing "Raisin" -- the musical version of the black stage drama "A Raisin In the Sun." The boys toured Switzerland for four months at the expense of the European company. Jerry Johnson, Albert's mother, said the audition for the show was just one of several Collie had arranged for youngsters in the children's theater.
"He calls all the parents and lets them know where to take their children for auditions," Johnson said. "He's spent money out of his own pocket (for the theater). I think Kelsey has done all he can and more."
Johnson said she was "distressed" to hear of Collie's resignation.
Currently, six student teachers are paid to help Collie at the theater three hours on Saturdays. Collie said their salaries are paid from tuitions, which are $60 per child in the fall and spring. Summer tuition is $100. The theater instructs youngsters ages 6 through 18 in acting, creative writing, lighting and set design and makeup techniques.
Although much young talent is discovered and developed in the workshop courses, Collie said, those who benefit most are the shy, awkward or introverted children who, through their theater activities, gain the confidence they need to excel in school and to communicate with their peers.
Malwai Williams, 11, is a case in point.
Her mother, Iola Williams, heard about Collie's resignation in a recent telephone call.
"He's leaving!" she exclaimed. "I didn't know that."
Williams, a District resident, said her daughter joined the children's theater nearly two years ago after she had called the college in search of a summer social development program for her painfully introverted daughter. Now Malawi is so outgoing in school and at home, her mother says she can barely keep track of the girl's activities.
"It has brought her out so. In acting she forgets herself. Actually, she was afraid of children her own age. I took her out with some other children on New Year's Day and they didn't want her to come home. They said, 'She's so much fun.'
"It's developed her. She feels better about herself.
"It's a good program. I would hate to see it fold."