IWU assists Atlanta Summer Arts Camp in theatre studies; Mysteries presented

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[July 08, 2016]  LINCOLN - The Atlanta Public Library Summer Art Camp for first through fifth graders just completed its fourth season of theatre study under the direction of Illinois Wesleyan University theatre professor Jean Kerr and Atlanta Public Library Director Cathy Marciariello.

This year brought two new aspects to the theatre camp. This is the first year that two plays were presented because of the large enrollment of Atlanta’s young readers, and also the first year that the meeting space on the upper story of the Atlanta Museum was used to present the plays.

Professor Kerr teamed with Cathy Marciariello four years ago to present the summer theatre camp for Atlanta’s young readers. The program has continued to grow in popularity each summer. Not only has Jean Kerr brought her expertise in theatre to the community, but she has also enlisted the help of some of her students in the IWU School of Theatre Arts to assist in the project.

Kerr said, “I brought my students into this project to ensure they had experience in bringing theatre to the community, not just the huge venues in the big cities, but the small towns of America. It is a way to augment the excellent theatre program at Wesleyan.”

This year Selena Greising, Jace Legarde, Megan Sperger and Cami Tokowitz were the student volunteers from Wesleyan. Several participants in the theatre camp that have gone beyond fifth grade also volunteered to help.

Cathy Marciariello has insisted on bringing real theatre culture to Atlanta so the student assistants are paid for their aid with the program, just as they would be in a formal theatre setting. To further mirror the real world theatre, Jean Kerr has been designated artistic director for the camp, while Cathy is the producer. This is theatre immersion from A to Z for the campers.

The summer theatre camp runs for one week, but Jean and Cathy began to construct the program six weeks before the campers gathered to begin their immersion in all things theatre. The preplanning included a prop list, costume design, and the theme of the camp.

This year’s theme was detective mysteries, selected from books that are available at the Atlanta Public Library.

The younger campers worked on “The Zoo Mystery” under the direction of recent Wesleyan grad Selena with assistance from Megan, while the older kids are performing “CSI” directed by Jace and Cami. Jean Kerr’s daughters Delia and Linnea also helped this year with props and costumes.

While the theme of the camp was selected by Jean and Cathy, the actual scripts are written during the week.

The young readers initially were given theatre games to play that integrated terminology and technical aspects into their vocabulary. They then were assigned characters that are part of the play and told to improvise how the characters would behave. From this exercise, a script was written. “These are the most sophisticated scripts in the four year run of the theatre camp,” said Jean Kerr.

Each play also has its own cover art on a playbill for the program.

This year the kids will get to take home T-shirts at the end of the week with the name of their respective play on the back, T-shirts that each student designed and crafted.

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When asked why theatre is important for this unusual summer camp, Jean Kerr took a moment to collect her thoughts. “Theatre integrates so many aspects of what it is to be human. It teaches communication skills, cooperation, collaboration, and the importance of storytelling. It teaches problem solving and gives the young actors the satisfaction when the curtain comes down that they did it, created something,” she said. Kerr completed her thought with “Maybe some of the kids will go on to be a part of theatre, but even if they don’t, they will have a deeper appreciation of the work that goes into mounting a production.”

After an intense week of preparation for the final presentation of the plays, the doors to the Atlanta Museum meeting space were opened to a large crowd of parents, relatives, and friends of the theatre campers, excited to see the finished products. It was standing room only.

“This week has been like herding fireflies,” laughed Jean Kerr with affection in describing the creative process of working with youngsters during theatre camp week as her actors took their marks. Jean and Cathy presented opening remarks about the week and then curtain rose and the “Zoo” cast was off to the races. After a quick cast bow to great applause, “CSI” was presented.

The cast of both plays had received the final draft of each script the day before, and had only one night to memorize their lines, get off script, in theatre parlance. Lines were read, characters were fleshed out, and the cast moved around the stage as if they had been rehearsing for weeks. Both plays elicited huge applause from a very appreciative audience.

To complete the theatre vibe, a cast party was thrown after the final curtain.

The concluding part of the Atlanta Library Summer Arts Camp will be a week of music taught by Broadway actor Robert LuPone. He is traveling to Atlanta from the Big Apple at the behest of Cathy Marciariello, a personal friend. Think about it, a renowned member of the most famous theatre scene in the world traveling to Atlanta, Illinois to teach a class on music to first through fifth graders. What a wonderful experience they are going to have!

[Curtis Fox]


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