OWATONNA — Nearly two-dozen local children are receiving expert acting and storytelling instruction this week during a theater camp, and they’ll show off what they’ve learned Friday afternoon with an “informance” for an audience.
The Little Theatre of Owatonna is hosting the camp, led by a pair of actors and educators from Bright Star Touring Theatre, as the LTO board wanted to give local youth plenty of chances to “get up on the stage,” said the LTO’s executive secretary Victoria Bartkowiak. During the research process, board member Naomi Jirele alighted upon Bright Star, based in Asheville, North Carolina, “loved their programming, and thought it would be a good fit to bring here.”
Bright Star often goes into schools while they’re in session for theatrical education, but a weeklong summer “residency” in the same location — like this — is even better, because “we have more time to do more things,” said Bright Star’s Rebekah Krumenacker, who is originally from Pennsylvania and has a bachelor of arts in theater performance. The camp lasts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day this week, and 22 students is “a good number.”
“It’s not too many,” Krumenacker said. “In a week, we can get to know all 22 different kids.”
“We will help teach them what makes a good show,” including character, plot, and emotions, she said. “We’ll learn through games and examples, because what kid doesn’t love games?”
Body awareness is paramount on stage, as is voice projection, Krumenacker said. ”Where are you, who are you, what is your character feeling?”
On Wednesday morning, for example, the group worked on improvisation, and Krumenacker exhorted them to “follow through” on their characters.
“You guys have great ideas,” she told them. “I want to see the scene you started.”
Campers will perform skits they’ve written and polished throughout the week on Friday.
“We call it an ‘informance,’ rather than a ‘performance,’” Krumenacker said. That “makes them less nervous.”
Families and friends are “more than welcome to attend” the 3 p.m. show Friday, Bartkowiak said. Campers will “get to show off what they’ve come up with, and I can’t want to see what these creative minds can create.”
This camp is open to ages 9-12, “a good age to start theater,” she said. “It piques their interest.”
Krumenacker concurred with those sentiments, saying that “in my experience,” this age group is “very responsive to using their imagination.”
It’s remarkable how campers can progress over the course of a week, from “nervous and shy” early to “enjoying themselves” later, she said. As she teaches, Krumenacker tries to focus on “what I would’ve wanted to hear and what would have helped me when I was that age.”
“We’re giving them the tools and information and showing them how to have fun with it,” she said. They also learn how to work in a group, “a really important skill that will help them wherever they go in life.”
Every member in a group must contribute at least one idea to their sketch, so one tyrannical member isn’t permitted to run roughshod over the rest, she said. “Theater is collaborative.”
In addition to Bright Star’s representatives, numerous community members of all ages have volunteered to pitch in at the camp this week.
“We’re a second set of eyes,” said Shelby Johnston, a rising high school freshman. Johnston has been part of theatrical productions through school and LTO, so “I thought it would be fun to help with these kids.”
Like Johnston, Jessie Hagar volunteered to assist in the mornings this week, she said. Home from college for the summer, “I wanted to stay involved” with theater and the community.
By getting on stage and learning through this camp, children can develop confidence, Hagar said. “Lots of people have stage fright,” but this can “help them overcome that.”
Krumenacker began her theatrical career with church plays before moving onto school productions and then community theater, but “I would have loved” to attend camps like this one, she said. Unfortunately, where she grew up, the camps were cost-prohibitive, so she’s grateful so many local children can attend this week.
In fact, she hopes LTO’s summer theater camp grows into an annual tradition, she said. “I know Bright Star would love to come back here.”
Bartkowiak harbors similar aspirations.
“We’re hoping it can be a continuing thing,” she said. “That would be wonderful.”
“I remember seeing performances when I was younger and wanting” to be part of them, Krumenacker said. “This is what it’s all about, starting young.”