For over 15 years, the (Garfield Center for the Arts at the) Prince Theater, has turned itself into Playmakers, a theater camp for young people. What began with the then theater director Lucia Foster has continued with enthusiasm and commitment under succeeding managers and directors, and continues under the leadership of the theater’s Executive Director, Tess Hogans. Each summer during four intense and active weeks, young people between the ages of 8-15 are given the opportunity to taste the entire spectrum of theater, not only by acting, but also in set painting, choreography, and supportive cooperation with each other.
This season’s staff includes veteran directors Tess Hogans, seven-year veteran Catherine Bushby, and newcomer Shannon Whittaker, who is a now-familiar face on our stage. They are supported by counselors Paul Cambardella, who is also a member of the theater staff and a frequent actor on our stage, and Krystal Zornak, as well as script editor Tia Glomb, who is also a familiar box office volunteer. Tech work is performed by local actor-singer Brad Chaires, with set construction by theater staffers Butch Clark and Nic Carter.
To say that this program has a positive and enduring effect on its campers is an understatement: Alex Raimond, junior counselor, and volunteer Sarah Herron are graduates of the Playmakers. They are joined this year by volunteer Charlie Shifrin. In this group of 31 registered participants, 21 are returning for another year. Every one of the campers who has been involved in previous shows will gladly share recollections of their favorite play and the solid theatrical reasons to support their choice with anyone who takes the time to ask and listen to their well-considered responses.
There are some things that readily stand out in speaking with the repeat campers. They have developed friendships with previous strangers, they have learned to help each other with lines, with tasks, with housekeeping, and even with lunch. While they have fond memories of the plays they have participated in, the play itself is less important than the other skills they have learned, and that seems to be what is primary in bringing them back year after year – even into the realm of leadership.
During the weekend of August 9-11, the production will be a stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved novel, Fantastic Mr. Fox, a crafty ‘Robin Hood’ who takes from the abundance of the local farmers to feed his own less fortunate family and neighbors. Originally published in 1970, the book has become one of the most popular of children’s novels. I am reminded of the paintings by Horace Pippin and Winslow Homer, each of which has celebrated the ingenuity and daring of a lone fox who has gone night ‘shopping’ for a meal.
The play also lends itself to some serious discussions with children about rural life and the place of indigenous animals in a world that has been remade by humans. This is not a new concept, of course. Children will recognize the theme they first heard about in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, but it is no less pertinent now than it was when Beatrix Potter wrote her story in 1893. Local farmers continue to have land and resource disputes with wildlife: deer, rabbits, and coyotes to name but a few of our native species.
It is my hope that the community at large will continue to support the work of Playmakers in every possible way. If you have children or grandchildren of the appropriate ages, bring them to the theater this weekend. If they show any interest in the art and craft of the stage, sign them up for next year. If you have a desire to be in on the creative reach of youngsters, come see for yourself, leave a donation to further the program, and enjoy the experience with us.