So, my theatre camp has begun.
And by “my” theatre camp, of course, I mean the Bloomington Playwrights Project‘s summer program, the Youth Musical Theatre Ensemble. It’s a day-camp that, ideally, provides kids with a sort of “mini” summer-stock experience — rehearsing a single show for four weeks then performing it for a general audience at the end. Fun times, huh?
This is my third year with the program, and so far is already turning out to be the most challenging. In 2009, I was the camp’s music-director and the production was ‘Guys & Dolls, Jr’ — and we had all of twelve children enrolled. You ever tried to make ‘Guys & Dolls’ happen with twelve people?
Last summer was cool by comparison. Granted, our enrollment was twice what it had been the previous year, making crowd control more of an issue. And true, doing Jason Robert Brown with teenagers isn’t exactly a walk in the park, even when the music is written for teenaged actors (we did the first Indiana production of ’13’). I had also taken over directing — a relatively new challenge — since the previous year’s director had moved to New York. But the show — and I know not everyone shares this opinion — is really, really solid, and engaging, and actually communicates something of immediate relevance to the actors (which, this being an educational program, is my priority). In addition, we somehow managed to recruit and enroll an absolutely amazing cast of boys and girls who not only enjoyed working on the material but took seriously what it, and I, had to offer them. It was without a doubt one of the most rewarding theatre-making experiences I’ve ever had.
That’s not to say this year won’t measure up. First of all, I don’t look at these kind of things that way. I look at each year as a new and distinct experience all its own. But secondly, I have another great group of kids (about half new, half returnees) who are energetic, well-behaved (thank GOD!), and have every bit of potential to create their own fantastic theatre experience for themselves. What I’m worried about — what honest-to-god keeps me up night — is wondering whether or not I’m actually going to get the damn show done.
See, we’re doing ‘Zombie Prom’ — a sort of ‘Reefer Madness’-esque genre spoof about a teenaged nuclear zombie (it’s a long story…). I absolutely love the show. It’s got a great book, a great score, and a great message (turns out it’s about integration and tolerance… who knew?). But it’s F*CKING HARD!!! It’s clearly written for a small ensemble cast of solid professional actors. The vocal writing, the comic style, etc. are — IMHO — beyond the demands of even really talented kids.
I mean, yes, when I went YouTube-ing for clips of other productions, they were mostly from high school theatre productions. So it can definitely be done with that age group. But you know what else I discovered? Most of the productions are terrible. And not in the “it’s high-school theatre so it’s only going to be SO good and we should keep our expectations realistic” sort of way. It’s just that the basic skill-level, the technical mastery, just isn’t advanced enough at that age to really successfully get what ‘Zombie Prom’ is after.
But having said all that, I’m still out to make my kids put on the best damn production of this show they’re capable of. Because it’s my job.
And because I care.
There. I said it.