For weeks, the sounds of hammers, drills, electric screwdrivers and sanders have been reverberating through an old factory on Bird Street.

This week, the din will be replaced by the sounds of children singing, dancing and acting.

The Amity Children's Theatre recently moved into the renovated building later this month.

The Amity Children's Theatre is in only its second year, but popularity and a well-received performance of the musical "Annie" last year have helped it grow fast.

The group expects to cast about 60 children, ages 4 to 17, for "The Wizard of Oz," according to Justina Merz, president of the troupe's board of directors.

"We have kids from three different counties that participate," Merz said. "We're happy people think it's worth the drive."

The new building will enable the troupe to do more than rehearse plays. The 3,000-square-foot space will include one large and one small studio, a lobby, a waiting area, office space and a storage area for costumes and props.

That will give the group the room it needs to practice plays and learn songs and dances. It will also allow it to hold classes and regular workshops in acting and movement and to continue popular summer camp programs that were introduced this summer.

The Amity Children's Theatre "started with a group of mothers and a music teacher that decided there was a definite need for this type of thing in the area," Merz said.

The parents helped their children, all of whom had interests in singing and acting, form a small group called the Amity Children's Act. They toted a portable stage to area nursing homes, churches and other institutions, where the children performed songs and dances from Broadway shows.

The performances were so successful that Merz and Amity Children's Theatre co-founder Trish Haverkamp began working to establish a nonprofit children's theater.

"We had a lot of meetings and a lot of great mothers and fathers who could bring a lot of great backgrounds to the theater," Merz said.

Finally, the Amity Children's Theatre was born last year. With memberships from more than 50 children, it rented space from Dance One Studios in Douglassville and began producing its first full-length play. Parents served as directors, costume designers, set builders and acting coaches.

"We knew it needed to happen," Merz said of the theater, "but it turned out to be a definite need, and more and more people have contacted us," about joining.

Last year, the troupe's first production, "Annie," was performed at The Hill School. The show won the new group a positive reputation.

"A lot of people saw 'Annie' and thought it was really great," Merz said. "They saw what type of show we do. We try to make it very much a professional show, as professional as we can for children."

The positive feedback the group received has attracted more people to it. A professional actress will serve as the acting coach for "The Wizard of Oz"; a high school theater teacher will be the assistant director.

But it also became apparent that the space leased from Dance One Studios was too small to contain the fast-growing theater group.

"We quickly realized we needed an office and costume rooms," Merz said. "We were bringing our records back and forth. We just needed a place where we could store everything."

It wasn't until August, however, that the group found the space on Bird Street in Birdsboro that it is now renovating. The large, brick building, owned by Graphic Ink, is a former sewing factory that was built as a school.

It consisted of one large open space that Graphic Ink divided into two 3,000-square-foot areas. Graphic Ink took one half, and the Amity Children's Theater is leasing the other half.

"We basically had an empty space," Merz said. "We've had a group of parents over there putting up drywall and sanding."

They'll also paint the studio in dramatic shades of purple, silver and black. Eventually, children will help decorate, slapping autographed handprints onto a wall of fame.

While children are the driving force behind the troupe, the parents have taken starring roles behind the scenes.

Merz, an interior designer, is a good example. Her theater experience consisted of a few parts in high school plays. Merz responded eagerly when her two daughters, Callie, 11, and Allyse, 8, expressed enthusiasm for acting, dancing and singing.

She has, with Haverkamp and other parents, done much of the footwork to establish the theater. She and Haverkamp co-directed "Annie," and Merz also served as the costume designer, sewing, renting and borrowing outfits for the show.

Merz just thinks it's important for children with an interest in theater to have a local outlet to explore their talents.

"We want to continue providing productions for kids to be in every year and to offer education in all aspects of the theater," she said. "We want to give parents and kids a place where people who are interested in that kind of thing can come."

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