What's New on the Rialto
or Mommy, I Want to Be Elphaba When I Grow Up!
By Charles Battersby
Also see our feature Behind the Scenes at The Phantom of the Opera
Colleges are turning out theatre majors by the thousands, Broadway stages are full of Disney musicals, Tony Award winners are playing super heroes in the movies. No wonder your kid is screaming "Mommy, I want to be an actor when I grow up!" If the school drama club and your local community theatre aren't enough for your little Broadway baby, then consider Stagedoor Manor, a summer camp that offers theatrical training for children ages 8-18, and produces shows starring the campers.
Stagedoor Manor is situated in the Catskill mountains and offers some traditional summer camp activities like swimming and horseback riding, but focuses mainly on theatre. Alumni include film and TV actors (Natalie Portman, John Cryer, and Robert Downey Jr.) as well as theatre composers and writers such as Jeanine Tesori, Jeff Blumenkrant, Nicky Silver and performers like Todd Graff, Michelle Federer, Danny Gurwin, Julia Murney and Todd Buonopane, who's currently understudying in the Broadway production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and recently performed in the Gypsy of the Year Competition.
"We don't like to call it a camp," says Mr. Buonopane. "We called it a Performing Arts Training Center'. A camp is where you do stuff like boating and tying knots and stuff. We mostly did theatre. It's basically for the kids who are really serious about it, trying to get that step up from high school theatre, so they can actually be treated seriously."
Katelyn Pippy (pictured at left in the 2003 camp production of The Boy Friend), a 12-year-old Broadway starlet, spent several summers at Stagedoor Manor and recently performed in Stephen Schwartz's Captain Louie on 42nd St. She explains, "You're not treated like a kid, you're treated like a professional actor. So it helps you prepare for what it's like when you're a professional actor, because you can't goof around all the time. It's fun, but you have to have some level of respect and listening."
Katelyn's mother, Katherine Pippy, points out, "It's a really great program for kids who like doing theatre more than sports. When they go to Stagedoor, they'll be comfortable because everybody is like them. They're all very dramatic kids, and they have fun. But at the same time, they're serious."
Buonopane agrees. "When I was eleven my mother finally accepted the fact that I couldn't play sports, and that I liked to sing and dance. So she found an ad in the paper for a local performing troupe. The woman who ran that had a daughter who was about ten years older that I was, who had gone to Stagedoor. I said I want to go there!' And I went for seven years."
Over the course of the summer, up to a dozen shows are rehearsed and performed. During the rehearsal period, the children are held to the same standards they would be held to if they were cast in a professional production.
"They had rehearsal times where they had to show up and it was their responsibility to be there," Katherine Pippy says about her daughter's experience. "They had free time to go swimming and enjoy some of the activities there, but if they wanted to have a good part, they had to audition, and they had to show up for the rehearsals. They had to act like a professional would."
Even if your child can never quite decide on what they want to be when they grow up, and might not make a career out of theatre, Stagedoor Manor can still be fun and full of useful experiences. "Sometimes kids go there in the beginning because they want to do musical theatre, but when they get a little older, they just don't feel like it anymore," says Katelyn. "But they still go back because of camp friends, and it's such a great experience. Even if you don't want to be in the shows, you can be behind the scenes, which is a lot of fun too."
Aside from preparing for a career in theatre, attending the camp can provide other benefits, useful to any choice of career, like self-esteem and emotional maturity. "A lot of my friends from Stagedoor are still pursuing this," says Buonopane, "But some are doctors and teachers. All of my friends from Stagedoor are hugely successful in life. Theatre gives people a lot of confidence in their everyday life."
"I was so nervous when I first got there," admitted Buonopane. "It was the middle school years when you don't feel so cool. I wasn't one of the cool kids then, but I still had a bunch of people around me who thought what I was doing was cool because we were all doing the same thing. It gave me a lot of self-confidence. I think I grew up there."
For those who do intend to spend the rest of their lives working in theatre, there are some less tangible benefits, including the fact that the professional theatrical community is filled with alumni of Stagedoor Manor. "A lot of people I worked with at Stagedoor as teachers are now directors, conductors or music directors in New York and on Broadway," Buonopane explains. "At every third audition there's someone who went to Stagedoor. At the very least you get a conversation going at the audition, and it gives you two more minutes in the room that you wouldn't have had."
Most children don't have access to anything beyond their school's annual production of Oklahoma!, so spending a summer with genuine theatre folk at Stagedoor can be a unique opportunity for those who literally can't wait until they get Hollywood, or New York. Visit www.StagedoorManor.com for more information about Stagedoor Manor and its programs.
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