Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 21, 2018

What big talent they have

Weeklong theater camp makes stop in Washington
Jul 27, 2018
Photo by: Gretchen Teske Kids watched their directors and repeated their lines as they prepare for their performances this weekend.

By Gretchen Teske, The JOURNAL


Twenty hours are all Maggie Austin, James Tarrant and Ali Valentine have to turn 60 kids, ages seven to 15, into stars.

The three are directors at Camp Creamery, a weeklong traveling theater camp that hosts kids for four hours a day for five days and churns out two shows at the end. For their third year making a stop in Washington, the campers are performing an original piece, “Little Red Meets the Wolves” on Friday, June 27, and Saturday, June 28, at 7 p.m. on both nights, at the Washington Community Center.

The camp has been in action for over 10 years and is sponsored by the Old Creamery Theatre in Amana. The board of directors at the theater attend a national convention in Memphis, Tenn., where over 100 other theater companies also attend. Actors audition in an open-call fashion and are then chosen by prospective camps to be counselors, directors and mentors for the students who filter through. After the first audition, is a day full of call-backs.

“You kind of spend the whole rest of the day going to any companies that call you back,” said Ali Valentine. She is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and has traveled with theater groups before.

Camp Creamery first came to Washington three years ago when a parent brought it to the attention of Washington Community Center manager Cat Nelson. The camp had previously been in Wellman and the parent wanted to see it done locally. Nelson had never heard of the camp but researched it and contacted them immediately. “Now that I know it exists, we’ll have it in Washington,” she said.

The camp began on Monday with 60 campers filing in and getting to know their fellow campers and the staff. James Tarrant is a Camp Creamery veteran, having performed with the group before. Tarrant, originally from Brooklyn, NY, was excited to get back to working with the kids after taking time off to tour with the Broadway National Tour of “Amazing Grace the Musical.”

“This is a nice program where as long as you are in the first 60 people to sign up, you get a spot,” he said. “The roles are based on talent, not the shows themselves, so everyone gets the chance to be on stage.”

Maggie Austin, from Syracuse, NY, says that allowing kids to have that chance is important for their futures and appreciation of theater. “When I was younger and doing camps like this, it just fostered my love for theater and learning,” she said.

Three shows are produced every year by three groups who work for Camp Creamery. The directors also take on the roll of actors and play the same part in the show all summer long. The kids audition for the roles by lining up from smallest to tallest. They are given lines to practice and say aloud so the directors can determine who might be the most confident and best for each role. The company provides all the costumes, sets and props for the shows as well. All the kids need to provide is the talent.

Although this may seem like a lot of work, Tarrant says leaving the kids is the hardest part. “You only have a week with them,” he said. “When you have a bad week, you’re done on Saturday. When you love the kids and enjoy the kids, the week isn’t long enough.”

Nelson estimates that over 60 percent of the campers have been through the program before. She says that some stay with grandparents who live in town so they can attend the camp for the week. Nelson’s favorite thing about the camp is all the kids are active in it. “They’re all characters, they’re all actors, they’re all participating, which is hard to do when there’s 60 of them,” she says. “They’re all group roles so the kids can all participate how they’re comfortable.”

Nelson says that being in the camp helps the kids learn public speaking as well as teamwork. She says it gives them the chance to work together with people and also to learn to speak in front of groups of people, so they can do it again one day.

At the end of the week, the three directors pack up their things and leave the kids with only their memories, which they hope are good ones. They all agree that the most important aspect of the camp is that the kids have a positive experience. “Having fun is the most important thing because theater is fun,” said Austin. “What we do, it’s very important. I think there should be more camps and opportunities like this for kids.”

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