Clovers & Company 4-H song and dance troupe members, from left, Peyton West, Megan Beckett, Kelsey Flannery and Ariana Cherry kick up their heels during a performance.
Newton County resident Mary Lathem is going to have a busy year on stage.
The Eastside High junior will assume the role of Audrey in the Drama Club's staging of "Little Shop of Horrors" in late February and will also appear in the Oxford Youth Singers' spring production of "Grease."
And when she's not performing locally, Lathem somehow finds time for the nationally acclaimed Georgia 4-H song-and-dance troupe Clovers & Company, which will mount its revue "Stand Up" at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21 at Newton High School.
The 16-year-old Lathem's introduction to the stage came at a young age and she's been an enthusiastic performer ever since.
"In the third grade, I was in the Social Circle Theatre's 'Annie' and since then I've been hooked," she said.
She first auditioned for Clovers & Company in the fifth grade and has been with the group -- which numbers about 50 -- for the last six years.
"When I was in the fifth grade, I had a 4-H project that was performing arts and our county agent suggested I look into Clovers & Company to continue with performing arts in 4-H," she said. "I really didn't know anything about it, but I decided to try out and got started when I was in the sixth grade."
Founded 31 years ago, Clovers & Company performs on behalf of Georgia 4-H, the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Cooperative Extension's youth program.
The group, which has its own backup band, counts such well-known figures as Jennifer Nettles (from the country mega-duo Sugarland), Hillary Lindsey (the composer of a dozen No. 1 country singles, including "Jesus, Take the Wheel") and actress Nikki DeLoach (MTV's "Awkward") as alumnae.
The ensemble generally schedules a dozen shows per year, primarily at conferences.
"We usually do between 10 and 12 performances each year," said Cheryl Varnadoe, Clovers & Company's state coordinator and assistant show director. "Usually one show is out of state at another 4-H conference, and this year we're going to the Arkansas state 4-H conference in Little Rock in June."
With members' ages ranging from 10 to 18, Clovers & Company holds two auditions each year, one at the Fortson 4-H Center in Hampton and another at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton.
"Kids have to audition every year," said Varnadoe, who has been involved with Clovers & Company since 1994. "Most of the time, they make it back and sometimes they don't. We take the very best and audition fairly. We look at everybody and videotape everybody. This year we had the most people ever -- 160 -- audition.
"We close each season with a show in July for the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders and that's the last show with a group. Then we name the new group and have two rehearsal weekends in August. We pretty much put the whole show together then and then we start performing. Next year we'll have a show as early as September, but usually our premier is in October at the Georgia National Fair in Perry."
Lathem has three solo spots in this year's revue -- "Mama, Who Bore Me" from the Broadway musical "Spring Awakening;" "Drive," by the rock band Incubus; and "Rolling In The Deep" by acclaimed vocalist Adele.
When asked which year of Clovers & Company she has enjoyed the most, Lathem said, "That year is this year. This show is great. There are so many songs that are just showstoppers."
"We do a mixture of old and new numbers so that any audience will enjoy it," added Varnadoe. "There's some country, there's some rock 'n' roll, there's some gospel. There are all sorts of flavors in the show. Anybody would enjoy this show. We try to cater to everyone in the audience. And our cast members range in age from 10 to 18, so we have a great number of different ages."
Lathem said her favorite portion of the show is a rendition of the old Creedence Clearwater Revival hit "Down on the Corner."
"All the boys sing a capella and then we have some tap dancers join in," she said.
Even though Newton County is considered the birthplace of 4-H in Georgia, Clovers & Company has never performed in Covington during Lathem's tenure with the group. Suffice it to say, she's excited for the opportunity to show friends and family the troupe's abilities.
"It feels really good because I can tell my friends, 'Come check out this cool thing' and they don't have to drive two hours to see it," she said. "I'm glad that my friends will be able to see it and kind of understand more what I do. Also, my family members will be able to come to, and that's exciting."
Clovers & Company's Newton County performance will also include contributions from the Oxford Singing Children and the Oxford Youth Singers and was devised, in part, from the friendship between Varnadoe and Buncie Hay Lanners, executive director of the Arts Association in Newton County.
"This show came about because the Arts Association has wanted to have us for quite a while and over the years we've had several kids from Covington in the company," said Varnadoe. "Mary Lathem's mom Lexie has been a strong proponent of getting the group over there and Buncie Lanners is a former 4-Her -- she was a 4-Her with me.
"We've done lots of shows in conjunction with arts associations across the state. So it was a model we were already using and they invited us and Oxford groups will sing before us, so we're bringing some kids from the community into the picture with us."
If you go
What: Clovers & Company, along with the Oxford Singing Children and the Oxford Youth Singers, presented by the Arts Association of Newton County, along with Honda of Conyers and Jean and Rob Fowler
When: 7 p.m. on Jan. 21 at Porter Hall on the Newton High School campus, 140 Ram Drive
Where: Porter Hall on the Newton High School campus, 140 Ram Drive
Cost: Tickets are $5 and can be obtained by calling 770-786-8188 or by visiting www.newtoncountyarts.org.