SPOTLIGHT ON SUMMER TRAINING 2000: Kids and Teens - Schools Out, but Theatre's Always In

Summer is a time when young theatre enthusiasts from beginners to already-working professionals can put away their schoolbooks and have more time to hone their theatrical skills and interests, and to pursue their dreams. This can be done in many settings, including sleep-away camps, pre-college programs, and nonresidential classes. Whether you're looking for serious training or for just plain fun, here are a few options to help you begin your search.

Performing Arts Is Their Cornerstone

Nestled on 125 acres of wooded forest in New Milford, Conn., Buck's Rock was founded in 1942 by Ernst and Ilse Bulova, students of Maria Montessori. At a time when camps were highly regimented, their approach was to emphasize instead farming and the performing arts. Today, under the camp directorship of Mickey and Laura Morris, the theatre program flourishes at the summer camp, and eight to 12 plays are produced during the season, which runs from June 28 to Aug. 19. This coeducational summer camp is for ages 12 to 16, and tuition for summer 2000 is $6,190 for the full season, or $4,160 for the first or second half.

While many talented kids attend, talent is not a prerequisite. Campers explore and discover all areas of the arts, including scene study, movement, characterization; and costume, scenic, lighting, and sound design. The Buck's Rock Theatre compares in both size and equipment with professional theatres. Dancers explore choreography and creative dance. Clowning workshops include pantomime and slapstick, and the music program ranges from orchestra, voice and chorus, to a cappella, folk music, and rock bands. The communications department writes and produces the camp's many publications and scripts, and the seven-day-a-week radio station uses campers as writers, DJs, and performers. A video program is available for cinematography. There is also the unique opportunity to participate on the animal and vegetable farms that still exist today, as well as in a full range of noncompetitive sports and recreation.

Because Buck's Rock is near Tanglewood, Caramoor, and Jacob's Pillow, there are guest lectures and trips to professional performances. There is also the annual Buck's Rock Festival to show what campers have achieved. Camper-staff ratio is 2 to 1; all staff members are college-trained teachers or artists who are chosen for their ability to work with children.

Buck's Rock, 59 Buck's Rock Road, New Milford, CT 06776; phone: (winter) (860) 350-5972, (summer) (860) 354-1355; website: .

Where All the Summer's a Stage

Now celebrating it's 25th year, Stagedoor Manor, in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y., founded and directed by Carl Samuelson, is a summer camp providing total theatre immersion for beginner, intermediate, and advanced performers. This nationally recognized summer-theatre training center provides traditional noncompetitive recreational camp activities as well. Alumni include many Broadway, film, and industry professionals, including Todd Graff, Robert Downey, Jr., John Cryer, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Josh Charles.

While casting directors have used the Manor as a resource for new talent, the camp's primary purpose is to create a fun atmosphere in which eight- to 18-year-olds can "learn by doing" about theatre. Most campers arrive as beginners, but those who have studied or are already working professionally come too. There is a place at camp for all levels of talent and experience. Equally as important is the youngster's love and interest in theatre. Campers are working on a show at all times. Thirty-three of these are produced and performed at the five theatres at Stagedoor and in shows at the neighboring area's professional headliner resorts. This cabaret-resort program is open to all campers who wish to be included. Daily schedules selected by the individual can specialize in one area, or feature different types of study. Mornings are spent in classes including drama, audition preparation, stage combat, makeup, dance, musicals, television acting, modeling, and technical theatre. Afternoons are for the noncompetitive recreational activities you'd usually find at summer camp. Evenings are spent rehearsing and performing. Alumni and industry guests visit to give workshops and rap sessions. Some schools will give credit for work done at Stagedoor Manor, and the large number of shows performed can build a young performer's resume.

Stagedoor Manor, Loch Sheldrake, NY; phone: (winter) (914) 636-8578, (summer) (914) 434-4290. The full nine-week session runs June 26 to Aug. 27, with tuition of $7,750. The first three weeks cost $3,485; the first six weeks $5,785; the last six weeks $5,285; and last three weeks $2,950.

For the Creatively Curious

If you're interested in a pre-college performing arts program for high school students 16 to 18, The University of the Arts, in Philadelphia, Pa., is the only university in the nation devoted exclusively to the performing arts. Its staff is committed to providing a stimulating environment in which young artists learn about themselves while learning about the arts. The University is looking for curious, creative students who are excited about the arts and willing to push themselves to personal limits and learn new techniques.

A four-week program is offered in either Drama or Musical Theatre. As well as filing an application, you'll need to make a VHS audition tape. (See the school's brochure for audition requirements in each program.) Classes are structured to accommodate different levels of expertise. College credit for classes is not available.

Drama focuses on the fundamentals of acting, voice, movement/dance technique, and stage combat. Students perform at the end of the program in the Summer Showcase, and each student receives a videotape by mail in September. Students will also attend a professional production as part of their program experience.

Musical Theater provides daily technique in auditioning, music, dance, acting (Stanislavski-based), and rehearses repertoire to be performed at the end of the four-week program. (A video is provided of this performance as well.) Students attend a professional musical production as part of their summer experience and also meet daily to rehearse.

While 40% of the students commute, on-campus housing with kitchen and bath are available for $150 a week. It is possible to eat a cold breakfast in your room, but cooking is not suggested for evening meals because dorms are not air-conditioned. Campus caf meal cards for lunch are available for $30 per week. Meals have to be purchased for dinner and weekends from off campus, and a budget of $100 per week is suggested.

University of the Arts, 320 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19102; phone: (215) 717-6430, (800) 616-ARTS (outside Pennsylvania); website: . Tuition is $1,700 plus $200 lab and program fees. May 5 is the deadline for applications and for applying for partial scholarships based on talent or merit. Drama or Musical Theatre programs are offered July 10-Aug. 4, Monday-Friday, 9 am to 4 pm.

What a Difference a Week Makes

If you're a New York student from third grade and up and spending your summer in the city, TADA!, founded in 1984 and the leading producer of professional-quality youth theatre in New York, is offering Week-Long Workshops programs.

You can study musical theatre Monday through Friday at TADA!, from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm-perform Broadway songs and those written originally for TADA!, play acting games, create original scenes, and learn high-energy dance routines. Each Friday students present what they've learned to parents and friends. Every week is different; you can take as many weeks as you wish, with each workshop costing $250. Summer dates run June 12-16, 19-23, July 31-Aug. 4, 7-11, 14-18, 21-25, and Aug. 28-Sept. 1.

TADA! exists as a theatrical training ground, but also to give kids from all racial, economic, and social backgrounds a place to develop individual talents while being a vital part of a group. The staff is composed of theatre professionals experienced in working with children. Kids can also audition for the Summer Mainstage musical, "Everything About Camp (Almost)," with scenes by Michael Slade, music and lyrics by various artists. Performances run on various dates between June 30 and July 30. Rehearsals begin May 30, and auditions are April 29 and May 6, 10, 12, and 13; callbacks are May 19-20.

TADA! believes that theatre teaches structure, discipline, and problem-solving skills needed by kids today, whether or not they become performers. The organization can supply additional information on the many year-round programs and performances by and for kids ages five-17.

TADA!, 120 W. 28th St., New York City, NY 10001; phone: (212) 627-1732; website: .

More Ideas

NYC has ongoing theatre class options for teens and preteens in many performance styles. Since 1976 ACTeen has been offering NYC's first film acting program for teens and young adults ages 13-20. For information contact Rita Litton at (212) 391-5915.

Weist Barron's "Kids Love Acting" (Sharon Richardson, Children's Director), has beginning, intermediate, and advanced workshops for ages seven-12, with two- or four-week or Saturday programs. Call (212) 874-1081 with inquiries.

As well as using the pages of Back Stage to find information on more classes, you can ask other parents, or check your local YMCA, school, music conservatory, community theatre, and yellow pages for ideas. For camp suggestions try , an education super-site offering sections on camps and universities.

Theatre à la Jacques Lecoq

By Simi Horwitz

For those in grades nine through 12 who are interested in being the next Julie Taymor or Bill Irwin (as opposed to, say, Paul Newman or Marlon Brando), the New York City-based Soho Rep will be launching a unique summer training program, July 10-Aug. 6.

"We are offering a multi-disciplinary approach to performers who want to create theatre by bringing their own unique vision to it," notes Thomas Kriegsmann, co-producer of the summer camp. "Our program is geared for students who have a broad interest in theatre, with a particular interest in masks and clowning and various theatrical styles."

Members of The Flying Machine will teach the summer intensive-five days a week, 9 am to 4 pm. The Flying Machine is an international ensemble of performers founded in 1996 at L'Ecole International de Theatre Jacques Lecoq. The latter is known for his classic clowning technique that brings together elements of commedia dell'arte, improvisation, masks, and ensemble creation.

Soho Rep will offer students daily workshops (9 am-1 pm) in a range of subjects-from clowning to character study to improvisation and ensemble creation and composition. Afternoons will be spent rehearsing, and work is performed and presented each week. And at the end of the summer session, all pieces will be shown at Soho Rep's New Works Festival, now in its sixth year.

Kriegsmann anticipates approximately 28 students, divided into two groups, in the program. Students will be selected on the basis of essays they write that ideally demonstrate their passions and commitment.

Soho Rep, 46 Walker St., New York City, NY 10013, Att'n: Thomas Kriegsmann, (212) 941-8632; E-mail: . Cost: $950 per student; scholarships/stipends available.