Workshop nurtures children’s love of theater

MANISTEE — Every actor who has graced the stage has that defining moment somewhere in there life that hooked them on theatrical productions.

Children in the 2019 Children’s Theater Workshop running this week at Manistee Middle/High School get their first chance to get on stage in front of people at Monday morning’s session.

This week the annual Children’s Theater Workshop is being held at the Manistee Middle/High School auditorium and there is the distinct possibility that among the 47 students there just might be someone who starts a future in theater. It could be on the stage, behind the the curtain or in the control booth as the children will get the opportunity to see everything about how a production is put together.

“This is our sixth annual drama camp for any child in second to ninth grade,” said program director Sharon Gates. “Our theme this year is ‘Great Characters,’ as every year we have a theme and there are characters from things like ‘Annie,’  ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Star Wars’ and all kinds of fun skits.”

Gates said they custom write the skits and the whole process leads up to a free performance that will be held at 1 p.m. on Friday at the Manistee Middle High School Auditorium followed by an after glow ice cream social for the kids. All of the children attending this week’s workshop will have a role in one of the skits.

“We try to hold it to 50 children and last year we had 54 because a lot of them wait until the last minute to register,” said Gates. “We hold it to around 50 because every child gets a role in one of the seven or eight skits that we put on. Each of the skits are headed up by an intern and these are older kids from high school and college. We pay our interns and they come back year after year because they love it.”

This year serving as assistant leaders are Joseph Slivka and Blade Gates, while Ryan Biller is head technician up in the control booth. Other interns include Lauren Hanna, Angelina Sam, Jane Amstutz, Lillie Schafer, Tug Thuemmel and Maggie Madsen. The workshop also gets assistance from adult Susan Meyers, who volunteers to do the costumes and props for the show at the end of the week.

“The interns like this so well that they are now interested in writing their own skits,” said Gates. “So four of my interns wrote their own skit. I still have to edit them, but we are teaching our interns to be future leaders in the theater. It’s amazing how when you are given a challenge you rise to it like these kids have done.”

Gates said it is a wide variety of children that come to the annual workshop.

Ryan Biller shows some of those attending the Children’s Theater Workshop how they change the color hues on stage for certain scenes.

“Some of them have no experience with theater, while others have had a little,” said Gates. “So this workshop is to give children the chance to do theater, but to also nurture the joy of theater. This can be a lifetime hobby and something they can do for the rest of their life. It’s like joining a family because you keep re-connecting in different plays.”

What never ceases to amaze Gates is the way the children grow from the workshop over the course of a short week.

“It is amazing what these children learn in just one week,” said Gates.

During the course of the week the children must audition even though they all get a part.  The audition is just so they can see how the process works. They get training in lights and sound as well as what transpires backstage at a production.

“Some of our children are more interested in the other things behind the stage,” said Gates. “Some are doing tech, props, costumes now and they like it. We feel great about this program as it has been so well received in the community. There all the different levels going on as it’s not just about theater and learning how to act. It’s teaching those older children to be future leaders and then the children attending the camp have an opportunity to become a junior intern.”

Gates said without the financial support of people like Ray and Claire Schlaff, the workshop wouldn’t be possible. In honor of their son, Doug, who they lost to cancer, the Schlaffs created a Doug Schlaff Youth Fund for projects like this workshop.

“They went to Carol Voigts to see if she would create something like this,” said Gates. “Carol and I were friends through theater and she asked me to co-direct the workshop. She had to step back due to some health issues, so I took it over this year with help from the interns.”

However, Gates said without the Schlaff’s support none of this week would be possible.

“There still is a slight cost beyond their support, but we provide scholarships as we don’t want any child to be left out because theater is for anyone, ” said Gates.

Throughout each day the children learn something new in how to prepare for a theatrical performance. The program runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily and the children all receive a free lunch through the free summer lunch program.

“It’s a lot of work and I couldn’t do this without the paid interns and the support from the community,” said Gates.

 

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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