Atlanta kids learn arts at APL camps
Theatre week concludes with three fairy tales

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[June 14, 2017]  ATLANTA - When Atlanta Public Library Director Cathy Maciariello had the idea to create a summer camp with an arts theme five years ago, little did she know what a sensation it would become. From modest beginnings, the arts camp idea has grown to include theatre, visual arts, and music camps for the youngsters in Atlanta. Each year more students sign up for the camps months ahead of time until they are almost always filled long before the start date.

This year was no different for the just completed theatre camp. “Community support for the camps is terrific,” said Cathy.

One of the unique features of the camps is the quality of leadership that Cathy has tapped into. As in past years, Professor Jean Kerr of the Wesleyan University School of Performing Arts and Dance served as artistic director of the Discovery Camp Players.

The Wesleyan Crew, clockwise from left: Maya McGowan, Genny Kleve, Professor Jean Kerr, Emily Strub, and Kira Rangel. Professor Kerr recruited the four freshman students to help with the summer camp.

Professor Kerr brought along a select few of her Wesleyan students. She said she puts out a call for volunteers among her students and is always overwhelmed with a response. She chooses four students from among those applying for the positions.

At a visit to rehearsals before the Friday performance, it was difficult to tell who was having more fun, the young campers or Professor Kerr and her students. Each Wesleyan student was assigned a different aspect of the camp, from directing the plays to costumes to music and movement. It is important to note that the campers were in charge, while their mentors just assisted when it was needed.

When the three plays were selected, the campers themselves were in charge of the arc of the play. We all have seen “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Thumbelina,” but the students were asked to add to the plays based on their own ideas.

“We want the kids to learn about the crafting of a play, how the parts fit together, called the 'Rule of Three' in fairy tales, the good, bad, and problem,” said Jean Kerr.

After a week of building sets, crafting costumes, and learning lines, the campers were ready to present their finished work to a large crowd of parents, relatives, and friends in the Union Hall Theatre above the Palms Grill in Atlanta.

Librarian Maciariello and Play Director Jean Kerr both had opening remarks to make before the plays began. They both lauded their campers for their hard work, excellent behavior, and genuine love of all aspects of putting on a play. “It was a pleasure to work with the kids this week. They have been one of the most sophisticated groups of youngsters I have worked with during the Atlanta Summer Arts Program,” said Professor Kerr. That sentiment was echoed by Wesleyan student Genevieve Kleve, who was one of the directors for the week.

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Once the curtain went up, the kids jumped into their roles with excitement. One unique aspect of the presentation was an exercise before the play, used to pump up the actors. Usually this is done offstage, but this year the audience was treated to this team building. One of the exercises was called “The Machine” where members of the cast created an assembly line complete with sound effects. It was a huge hit with the audience and the campers, who were already bubbling with energy and excitement. They were ready to perform judging from the laughter and grins from the cast members.

“Little Red Riding Hood” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” were performed with sock puppets, with the actors hiding behind a small stage in the middle of the room.

“Thumbelina” had the actors performing in person.

Parents were grinning and taking lots of photos and videos of their kids’ performances. Each play was followed by bows from the actors and great applause from the packed theater.

“We are so grateful for all of the support we have received for the Atlanta Library Summer Arts Camps. We want to thank the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation for their continuing support for our camps and for arts programs in central Illinois,” said Maciariello.

Why have a theatre camp?

“Theatre contains all of the aspects of the arts from dance, visual arts, and acting,” said Jean Kerr. “These campers may never become artists as a career, but introducing them to the arts at such a young age will instill an appreciation for the arts for the rest of their lives,” she said.

The Atlanta Public Library Summer Arts Discovery Camps continue making a difference in the community now and for future generations.

[Curtis Fox]

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