Ashland Children’s Theatre, formerly with Oregon Stage Works, is now on its own and has found a new home at the DanceSpace in Ashland. Founded in 2004 by directors Eve Smyth and Kate Sullivan, Ashland Children’s Theatre is offering summer camps for young people ages 4-17 along with theater camps throughout the year. We visited by a cozy fire at Eve’s pristine cottage.
KS: Landing in the DanceSpace, which is a great performance space, has been a good fit.
ES: We feel really welcomed there. It is on that row where there’s Dance Works and Le Cirque, and it’s like the kids’ own”…
KS: It is kind of a kids alley.
ES: We’re bringing a whole bunch of different elements for them to get a taste of: improvisation games, puppets, stage combat and some Shakespeare. There are new friends to be made and all of that good camp stuff. We’ve actually scheduled everything into 2012.
KS: Our summer camp begins with a TeenProv class, all teens and all improvisation, with Eve. There’s a Showcase at the end.
ES: We follow that with Imagination Travelers and Spontaneous Superstars, which are almost like a theater sampler plate or potpourri.
KS: Our pièce de résistance is our teen Mystery Theatre. Within two weeks we give a performance.
ES: A film noir-style comedy.
EH: These camps are afternoon hours, not all day long?
KS: Some are half-day camps. Obviously for our 4-to-6-years-olds, the Make Believe Explorers, it’s a one-hour camp with puppets. They come and make up a character on the spot, and Eve or Kendra (Laughery) makes up a story for them to act out.
ES: With the little kids, I’ll just say, “If you could be anything in this story today, what would you want to be?”
EH: Do you have a final production that is open to the public at the end of the summer?
KS: We do tend to do public performances several times a year as well as our Showcases.
ES: The last day of each camp we do a Showcase performance that anyone is welcome to come to and see what we teach our amazing kids. Mystery Theatre has two performances in August.
EH: What does theater develop in children that other mediums don’t?
ES: There is self-expression in a very immediate, real and personal way. It’s not that you’re writing a story all by yourself, or painting somewhere in a room by yourself, it’s very ensemble. It’s very connected.
ES: That is physically and vocally expressing yourself while connecting with scene partners. With improvisation, there is bringing forth and expressing your own ideas with other people. With scripts, too, finding how what Shakespeare (or some other playwright) has to say, needs to be said, and how to say it.
KS: There’s a tremendous work ethic that’s required toward the telling of the common story that unites those kids and speaks to us all. They’ve written their scripts, learned their lines, rehearsed, taken direction, challenged themselves and worked together to tell the story. So you have a group of kids who might not necessarily have come together in this world. But they are a cast, and they respect one another, and they tell that story together. The learning is huge. And they feel good about it.
Ashland Children’s Theatre 2011 Summer Camps begin June 27. For information, contact Kate Sullivan at 541-301-4549, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco’s Magic Theatre. Reach her email@example.com.