Performance of "The Ugly Duckling" wraps up Atlanta Public Library Theatre Camp

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[July 31, 2014]  LINCOLN - The Atlanta Public Library underwent a stunning restoration this year during which the interior was returned to the look it had when it was first opened in 1908. At a rededication on Monday, May 26, Memorial Day, Atlanta citizens got their first look at this jewel in their community. Since that day patronage at the library has increased markedly, according to library co-director Rachel Neisler. But the library is not just about books.

Under the guidance of co-director Cathy Maciariello, the library offers many engaging programs from book discussions to appearances by nationally known performing actors and musicians.

One of the most popular summer programs is the three week Arts Discovery Camp for grade school children. The camp introduces kids to art, music, and theatre, with each topic conducted in one-week periods.

Friday, July 25 saw the conclusion of the week of theatre camp with the presentation of a play that was completely crafted by the campers. Professor Jean Kerr of Illinois Wesleyan University and five of her acting students provided the guidance for the theatre camp.

Kerr and Maciariello became acquainted about three years ago when Maciariello inquired at Wesleyan if the school would be interested in partnering with the Atlanta Library to develop the Arts Discovery Camp. Kerr jumped at the opportunity, and the camp has been developing since.

Last year it was two weeks with art and theatre. This year a third week for music was added.

During the one week theatre camp, the kids were asked to select a book from the library that they were familiar with and develop a play from it. The campers selected Hans Christian Anderson’s tale “The Ugly Duckling” in its original version. Since this is a book, the campers had to adapt it to a stage presentation with characters, props, sound, costumes, and a new concept this year called dramaturgy. The goal was to present the completed play to the public at the end of the week.

The Discovery Camp Players got busy Monday morning with their mentors from Illinois Wesleyan. Wesleyan acting students Elizabeth Albers and Alec Sutton would be the directors for the production, while Bucky Emmerling was the props master and Haley Miller would handle costume design.

New this year was the addition of a dramaturg, handled by Cassondra Takas. Dramaturgy is the study of the history of the play and the themes brought out in it. This is a sophisticated concept that is taught at the college level, but the Discovery Camp Players dove into it.

Dramaturgy is a necessary element in the crafting of a play in order to develop characters and supply their motivation. Since “The Ugly Duckling” had to be crafted into a play, the college mentors encouraged the campers to study the themes of the book and then improvise dialog and scenes based on the themes.

Takas and her charges came up with bullying, jealousy, friendship, judgment, and self esteem as the main themes. Then Albers and Sutton had the campers improvise dialog and scenes once they understood the themes. These improvisations led to a formal script.

Once character development was underway, Miller set about helping the students craft costumes for the characters. These took the form of unique caps that were designed and crafted by each camper.

As the play filled out with characters and scenes, Emmerling helped the students design props to enhance the show.

Professor Kerr pointed out that each camper took part in every phase of the development of “The Ugly Duckling” play.

The campers learned to be part of an ensemble and be proud of their contributions to the production. “We stressed to the kids that they had to own their part in the whole production,” she said. The selection of cast members in the play was done by drawing names from a hat. Cassondra Takas stressed to the kids that the part they were selected at random to play was the one they were supposed to get.

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And the results of four days of hard work? The play was presented to a packed house of family and friends of the Discovery Camp Players at the Atlanta Methodist Church Friday morning. With a shout from Jean Kerr to the gathered cast members, “Don’t forget to be fabulous!” the Discovery Camp Players launched into a flawless production of “The Ugly Duckling," a play they had built from the ground up in only four days. Lines were read off book, that is without scripts in hand, actors remembered their cues when and where to move around the stage, and the chorus provided sound effects that melded perfectly with the scenes.

During intermission, cast members instructed the audience in the dramaturgy of the show, discussing the themes and what they had learned from them.

The enthusiastic applause when the cast members gathered on stage for a bow at the end attested to their enjoyment of the player’s efforts. And the grins from the Discovery Camp Players and the final shout out to their audience attested to the fun they had!

Many of the young performers were heard telling their parents that they wanted to enroll in next summer’s Arts Discovery Camp. Cathy Maciariello is already thinking about that, and she said there will be some surprises along the way.

It’s obvious that the Atlanta students got a great deal of real world information about live theatre during their participation in the theatre camp and had a lot of fun in the process.

When the Wesleyan students, who all volunteered their time to help out, were asked what they got out of the week, they were also enthusiastic about their experience.

Alec Sutton, director of the first act, said he learned leadership skills. Bucky Emmerling said he was surprised by how unself-conscious the kids were. He is inspired by that and hopes, as an actor, that he can strive to be the same way.

Elizabeth Albers, director of act II, said with a grin, “It was exhausting dealing with 14 kids.”

One of the most important lessons all five Wesleyan students hope they imparted to the campers was to have an opinion and be proud of it.

Professor Jean Kerr said she had students who helped during the inaugural 2013 Arts Camp come to her during the spring semester to volunteer for a second season in Atlanta. She is looking forward to a rewarding relationship between Illinois Wesleyan University and the Atlanta Public Library.




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