Staging Summertime: Young Talent Shines at Cultural Park Theater
Can you put on a full-scale theater production of a Broadway hit in less than three weeks? Maybe your seven-year-old can. Cultural Park Theater in Cape Coral hosts three sessions of summer camp each year where children put together major productions in a fraction of the time it takes adults to do the same.
“I tell you, children are like sponges,” says Michael Moran, executive director of the theater. “I cannot get over how fast children learn things. Even with our juniors, they learn a full show with dancing routines, songs, dialogue and all of the costume and scenic changes that go on in a play. I definitely don’t see adult shows come in where you can do a show in three weeks.”
Moran would know. He has served in his position for 13 years at Cultural Park Theater, where an accomplished team produces 24 shows each year. Three of those happen during summer camps for children ages 7 through 15. Classes of 40 to 45 students pull off the full-scale shows over nine weeks of classes, running from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The result? Kids, many of whom never stepped foot on a stage before and who come in shy and full of stage fright on day one, end up performing confidently in front of an audience come day 15. There are three camp sessions each summer. Each session runs $285 for a three-week program, and students are free to enroll in all three camps if they choose.
Last summer, the theater performed productions of Hairspray, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Disney’s Aladdin. All of those productions happened to be junior shows, versions of the plays abridged for younger performers, but the company also sometimes puts full-length musicals into the hands of its youngsters. It’s usually a matter of royalty negotiations more than concern about the young talents’ capabilities, Moran says. Typically, major roles are decided in the first week of camp. From there, the groups work with about a half-dozen camp counselors to learn lines, master choreography and figure out how to run sets and lighting.
Often, Moran says, students who complete the summer program come to audition for major productions in the fall. The theater makes an effort to present one production at that time of year that offers roles for young actors (i.e., orphans in Oliver! or band members in The Music Man).
The local theater company has existed in Cape Coral for 55 years, with a permanent home at the Cultural Park Theater since 1991, and in that time many of the aspiring youngsters have grown up to become regular participants in the community theater.
Even if participants never pursue drama on a major scale, there’s value in attending the camps. “The most important aspect is they are having fun,” Moran says, “but they also learn in their time here to do things as a team. They have to be patient and wait their turn while someone else is blocking a scene. They learn to memorize lines, and they leave knowing what delayed gratification is—it’s hard work but when that audience is there applauding them in the end, they are all thrilled.”
Written by Jacob Ogles, a freelance journalist based in Southwest Florida and a frequent contributor.