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Theater camps: Park Playhouse gives kids a professional experience

Theater camps: Park Playhouse gives kids a professional experience

Owen Smith doesn’t expect to discover the next Brando or Sutton Foster. He’s just looking for some y
Theater camps: Park Playhouse gives kids a professional experience
Jason Jacoby, a former Park Playhouse actor who is currently a member of the New York company of "Avenue Q," shows student Ian Justino how to properly handle puppets.
Photographer: Daily Gazette File Photo

Owen Smith doesn’t expect to discover the next Brando or Sutton Foster. He’s just looking for some young people with acting chops, and he thinks he’s found them.

“These kids are talented, and I’m quite certain that we’re going to end up with good shows in both instances,” said Smith, who, as managing director and artistic director of the Palace Performing Arts Center in Albany, oversees summer theater camps for children at the Palace Theatre and Park Playhouse in Washington Park.

“But the most important thing to me is to give these kids the best educational experience that they can. What we want to do is take them past their regular classroom experience and give them the experience of the rehearsal experience in a professional theater. We want to treat them like professionals.”

The Park Playhouse Kids, directed by Robert Whiteman, will produce three performances of “Seussical the Musical,” beginning Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Palace Theatre. The Park Playhouse II program, meanwhile, will offer three weeks of “The Little Mermaid” beginning next Tuesday and running through Aug. 27 in Washington Park. Tim Nelson is directing.

Working with the pros

“A lot of these kids have come and seen our production of ‘Chicago,’ and our staff here is rounded out by these professionals who do workshops with these kids all summer,” said Smith.

“These kids now get to work with actors who are either making a living in the theater or going to college and hope to have a professional theater experience. It’s a great opportunity and we try to make it a positive experience for everyone involved. And each group is putting on a show, but not everyone is working on the rehearsal aspect of the show at all times. We make sure the kids stay busy doing exercises in all aspects of the theater.”

The children producing “Seussical the Musical” have been rehearsing since July 18. Their age range is 8 to 13, which isn’t at all daunting to Whiteman.

“I’ve been an elementary school teacher in the Guilderland district for a while now so this is right in my wheelhouse,” said Whiteman, who currently teaches at Altamont Elementary School. “It’s a walk in the park because these kids want to be here and they’re serious. They’ve auditioned and been accepted, and they show up here every day prepared and excited to be here. Things actually come together quite quickly.”

“We had auditions back in March and we were overwhelmed by the amount of kids that showed up and the amount of talent among them,” he said.

“The Palace stage is really big, and we didn’t want these little guys getting swallowed up on it. We were originally thinking of casting between 25 and 30 kids, but we ended up casting 50, and everything has worked out quite nicely.”

Kellie Schweon is the choreographer for “Seussical” and Brian Axford is the musical director.

The cast for “The Little Mermaid” is made up of mostly 13- to 17-year-olds.

“I’m really excited about the production, and our cast is completely ready,” said Nelson. “The show is the movie magnified and amplified. It’s what everyone expects from the movie and more, which is what I love about it, and everyone in the cast has risen to the standard we were hoping for.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

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