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Midvale Journal

Theatre camp teaches kids how to perform

Aug 22, 2019 01:53PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Teens performed a scene during the Triple Threat Theatre Boot Camp at Midvale Main Street Theatre in July. (Photo courtesy Cassidy Ross)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

Here’s the scene: Two strangers are eating a meal together. It’s clear from the conversation that the occasion is a blind date, and things are not going well. The situation becomes tense when an overbearing server gets involved. Then the scene ends and the three teens return to the audience to get feedback on their performance.

Summer break means a lot of things, but for 32 kids it meant getting feedback on performances like the one above, practicing improv skills, learning to tap dance, and getting advice on how to audition.

In July, Cassidy Ross organized Midvale Main Street Theatre’s first ever musical theatre summer camp. Ross has been producing children’s theater at the performing arts space located at 7711 S. Main St. for more than six years. The kids receive instruction while learning and rehearsing those shows, which was the theatre’s first formalized training program.

“It’s fun to watch,” Ross said. “We have some kids who have performed with us before, and it’s fun to see how much they’ve grown (during the camp).” Ross said the camp’s first year went smoothly. 

Seventeen kids ages 5 to 12 participated in the Midvale Minis Theatre Camp where they learned skills from singing to dancing to prop making. The Triple Threat Theatre Boot Camp was offered to those up to age 18, and 15 kids accepted the challenge, including two 11 year olds. 

The cost to participate ranged from $90 to $175 and both camps culminated in a showcase where the students performed all choreography, songs and monologues for family and friends.

“They all worked so hard. In just two weeks, these kids are learning eight dances,” Ross said. “(The 11 year olds) had never tap danced before, so they took their shoes home and practiced in the evenings.”

Maddie Stensrud, age 14, was also challenged by the tap dance number. “Not only was that the hardest part, but it was also my favorite part because it was something I had never done before and it was super fun,” Stensrud said. “My favorite part of camp was all the hands on experiences they gave us. It helped us learn so much better when we got to do things ourselves, such as physically working with the lighting and [using] the different colors.”

One participant had never tried choreography before, but learned that he enjoyed designing dance sequences. Ross said there’s a value in getting a taste of all aspects of theater work and learning to work with other crew members. “This camp helps them appreciate tech people and understand how much work and thought is put into making the actors look good,” Ross said.

Workshops for the older group were led by professionals with specialized theatre skills and included instruction on script analysis, stage makeup, stage combat and costume design. Crystal McKinsey flew in from New York City, where she has performed in off-Broadway shows. McKinsey focused on helping the older students perfect audition pieces. Another instructor is a hip-hop dancer and taught the older group choreography from the musical “Hamilton.”

“My favorite part of camp was being able to say I was doing the same choreography as some of my broadway idols,” said Emma Stensrud, age 16. She and the older students also learned musical numbers from “Newsies” and “Mean Girls.” Both of those shows are appropriate for younger audiences, but also involve challenging concepts like poverty and bullying. 

“It can be hard to find material that’s appropriate for kids, but if you explain it well they latch on more than you would think,” said Kyle Esposito, one of the camp teachers. “Especially if you compare it to something they’ve gone through.” 

Esposito has worked in theatre full time for nearly 20 years. He currently directs at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre and is part of the technical crew at Pioneer Theatre Company. Esposito taught directing, character development, improv and pantomime workshops during the camp. He has experience leading youth workshops and enjoys it. 

“They’re so willing to learn,” Esposito said. “Adults can be stuck in their ways.”

Kids can also be more candid. Esposito held a Q&A session with the teens after assigning them to different scenes to perform. “They asked if it was okay to ask a director why they weren’t cast (in a particular role),” Esposito said. “Then they asked me why they weren’t cast anyway.”

All kids ended their sessions with everything they needed to audition, including a song and monologue that was rehearsed and ready to go as well as professionally-taken headshots. The kids also received advice on how to find an agent.

“They’re really pushing themselves and getting out of their comfort zone,” Ross said. “(The camp) has really helped kids get better, be ready to perform and find something they love.”