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Theater camps let children take the stage

July 4, 2011
By Kristy MacKaben, For the Mirror

The call of the theater beckons at an early age.

Dressed in costume with lines memorized, children as young as 4 are performing at the Altoona Community Theatre acting workshops this summer.

For almost three decades, the Altoona Community Theatre has offered workshops for local children to learn more about acting and theatre. The first of this summer's sessions started last week with children in kindergarten through second grade learning the ins and outs of performing. The week ended with performance (about 15 minutes) for family and friends at the Mishler Theatre.

Article Photos

Mirror photos by Kristy MacKaben
Marissa Foor, 6, of Everett (left) and Kinley Barnes, 7, of Bellwood, act out a scene at Altoona Community Theatre’s summer acting workshop.

"When they're younger, we introduce them to being in a play," Julie Settle, an instructor for the workshops, said.

The children learn theater terminology, stage directions and how to memorize lines in a script, she said.

"We get them comfortable being in front of people and just being creative."

Along with rehearsing for the performance, the children play theater games and are encouraged to use their imaginations. On a recent morning, children in the younger workshop played a creative game trying to imagine different uses for a roll of toilet paper.

"I think it's a butterfly flying around," Marissa Foor, 6, of Everett said, as she pretended to make the "butterfly" fly around.

"I think it's part of a head bone, a skull," Samantha Brandt, 4, of Altoona said.

Just minutes before the children had been rehearsing for their play: Marissa had been a rhinoceros and Samantha an elephant.

It's all about creativity and imagination at the workshops.

"From the very youngest children, we introduce stage directions and theatrical styles and theater terms," Settle said. "As they get older, we get into a little bit more advanced acting techniques."

Settle participated in the workshops when she was a child, and she went on to earn a bachelor of arts in theater from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and she continues to act and direct plays locally. Though not every child pursues acting as an adult, it's a good introduction to theater, Settle said.

The workshops are divided by age group: (kindergarten through second grade), (grades 3, 4 and 5), (grades 6, 7, and 8) and (grades 9, 10, 11 and 12).

The workshops geared to the older children delve more into the performance aspect - staying in character, cues, stage directions and auditioning. The teenagers are given an opportunity to pick monologues to use when auditioning. "We kind of give them resources," Settle said.

The summer children's workshops were started in the 1980s by Karen Volpe, theater manager for the Mishler Theatre for the Blair County Arts Foundation, as a way for children to learn about the theater at a young age. When Volpe was directing "Annie" at the time, she discovered some of the child actors didn't know basic theater procedures.

"Out of that came discussions that it would be cool to have a workshop for kids so they would have a heads up when they're in a play," Volpe said. "There are a lot of kids so interested in theater and just have that bug."

Volpe said children often develop lifelong friendships through the workshops, which bring together children with the same interests. "It's an outlet for them. It keeps sparking that interest, keeping that interest alive," Volpe said.

More than 100 students attend the 11 workshops during the summer. Not only do children learn about theater and acting, but they gain confidence. "It really helps with focusing skills," Volpe said. "It helps them to learn to be more observant of people as we study what people do with faces and bodies and voices. It develops creative thought processes and problem solving. We help them develop creativity and imagination and to get over some inhibitions. We just teach them to go for it."

For more information about the workshops, call 943-4357 or visit

Registration is $60 for the kindergarten through second grade workshops and $125 for the other levels.

Spots are still available for the workshops on Aug. 1 through Aug. 5 for kindergartners through second graders; July 11 to July 22 and July 25 to Aug. 5 for third through fifth graders; on Aug. 8 through Aug. 19 for sixth through eighth graders and on July 25 through Aug. 5 for ninth through 12th graders.

Penn State Altoona also offers a summer acting camp through its Kids College. The two-week class called "Kids College Player" is open to kids in second through fourth grades and ends with a performance of "The Ever After, a Musical." Through the class, the children learn to make their own props, costumes and programs for the show.

"This is the second year we've done it," Sherri McGregor, Kids College director said. "The kids had a great time."

The camp is July 11 through 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day and costs $240. Anyone interested in registering should call 949-5535 or visit http://www.aa.psu. edu/kids/24.htm for more information.



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