Summer Stock Jr. adds new programs while keeping true to its mission: introducing kids to the magic of live musical theatre
If change is good, this year’s Summer Stock Jr., presented by Inside Broadway and hosted by Local 802 was not just good – it was great!
“Camp is always evolving,” said Katie McAllister, the director of Summer Stock Jr. “We continue to dissect and remold it, offering not only high-quality instruction, but providing a glimpse into something new that excites and challenges our students.”
The basic format remained the same: campers rehearsed an original 35-minute production in four days, including dialogue, songs and dance numbers. The week culminated with a show in Local 802’s Club Room for invited family and friends. Local 802 Financial Vice President Tom Olcott attended the performance and welcomed the audience. The show was wonderful, the kids had a blast and the parents were ecstatic.
However, there were many exciting changes this year. First, the program was held twice this summer – one week in July and another in August, so that the camp was available to more students.
There were added field trips, which included a backstage visit to a Broadway theater, an afternoon at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, talks by Broadway professionals, and – best of all – seeing a live show.
There was a nominal fee per student to offset costs. In the past, camp was 100 percent free. However, this year scholarships were available to those students who couldn’t afford the cost of camp. McAllister reported that 60 percent of the kids attended on scholarships generously donated by Inside Broadway board members and private donors while 40 percent paid full freight.
For McAllister, the greatest developments were the add-ons. She told me that “they informed everything else for the students.” The trip to the Lincoln Center Library was particularly educational. At the library, the kids were instructed to look at a musical score of their own choosing. This was an eye-opener for everyone, but especially for those students with little or no musical background.
For first-time camper, Dominique Jean, the library visit was one of the highlights of the week. Dominique, who is now attending Edward R. Murrow High School, performed in his very first show last year, playing Joe Vegas in “Fame” at Marine Park Intermediate School. He loved the experience so much he desperately wanted to attend Summer Stock Jr. Unable to afford the fee, Dominique was awarded one of the scholarships to attend this year’s camp.
At the library, Dominique decided to take a peek at the intricate orchestral score for both the first “Star Wars” movie (a big favorite of his) and the “Clone Wars” sequel. A novice to music, it was quite astounding that Dominique could see the similarities in the scores and asked McAllister, “Is that what you call a theme?” To quote Professor Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” “I think he’s got it!”
Matthew Johnson is a budding young dancer who was awarded a scholarship to study at the Joffrey Ballet School when he reaches 10th grade. His score of choice was a well-known piece of ballet music. Looking at the score he was able to make the connection between the music and the choreography – why a leap or turn occurs at a certain spot in the music and how one informs the other. It was a revelation.
One of the goals of this year’s Summer Stock Jr. was to bring the campers to see a live show. In the first session, they went to see John Steinbeck’s play “Of Mice and Men” and were deeply affected by its tragic beauty and stark loneliness. During the second session, the students saw Rick Riordan’s “The Lightning Thief” at the Lucille Lortel Theater, adapted for the stage as a rock musical. The students had strong opinions about the pros and cons of the show, particularly the fact that it was performed to canned music. The kids were adamant about the importance of working with live musicians and realized how lucky they were to have a live accompanist for their camp. As Matt Johnson put it, “You can’t have a show without live music.”
Both groups of Summer Stock Jr. were treated to a backstage tour of the Imperial Theater, which is currently presenting “Les Miserables.” On one visit, they stumbled upon the person in charge of the wig department, who graciously invited the students into the shop. She showed them some of the wigs used in the show and discussed the craft involved, their expense (a single wig can cost $3,500) and other interesting details.
Denise Grillo, prop manager for “Motown: The Musical,” was invited to talk about the role of props in a show. One interesting story included her work on “Tarzan,” where it was the prop department’s responsibility to invent chairs light enough to dance with, which could bounce like a ball, yet look exactly like the other real chairs on stage – a masterful feat of design, technology and creativity. The campers were fascinated.
The effect of all the field trips was evident in the students’ deeper understanding of the entire theatrical process. Their thinking became more critical, their choices more informed and their performances more focused. The students learned the importance of teamwork and trust, both of which helped them build strong personal bonds during their intense week together.
It is clear that Summer Stock Jr. is working hard to grow and evolve, adding new and exciting programs to the week-long session that challenge and stimulate the attendees. Live performance accompanied by live music remains the primary focus, but, thanks to this year’s add-ons, the campers gained insight into some of the other aspects of live stage production which, in turn, helped to strengthen their performances and open up their imaginations. Together with Local 802, Summer Stock Jr. will continue to nurture and educate these young performers about the value and importance of keeping it live. Change is most definitely good!
If you know any young people who might be interested in next year’s Summer Stock Jr. camp, see www.InsideBroadway.org.
‘WORKING WITH LIVE MUSICIANS IS VITAL’
Local 802 member Heather Edwards was the accompanist for both sessions of Summer Stock Jr. She had this to say about her work with the campers:
“Working with Summer Stock Jr. has been a cherished experience for me as a musician, and a reminder of how working with live musicians is vital to the learning process in music and theatre. Having the opportunity to work with the children and helping them learn the different aspects of musical theatre, sharing their ideas and watching their talent grow is inspirational and something that is very dear to my heart. Giving the children a full experience with live music, direction and choreography is critical to offering a true understanding of collaboration and how musical theatre works from the rehearsal process to showtime. I can’t wait to see where their paths lead in the musical theatre world!”