Exposure to theatrical arts
In an upcoming production of “Mary Poppins, Jr.” by Fredericksburg Independent School District Community Education’s Theater Arts Camp, everything from the cast to the crew is expected to be Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Executive Director Bob Straus is putting on his 10th musical Friday through Sunday, Aug. 3-5, with a unique twist.
This year, Straus is bringing back Theater Arts Camp alumni to help run the production.
Young, local alumni of the camp have returned to Fredericksburg to assist in the production.
“It occurred to me why not bring these kids back, all who have developed an infinite love of the fine arts,” Straus said. “I have been so fortunate to have kids who are willing to transfer concepts down to younger kids.”
Fredericksburg High School graduates include Savannah Sprinkle, a 2011 graduate who is now a professional actress and choreographer that will be working for Tokyo Disney; Sloane Guthrie, a 2016 graduate who is a member of the Baylor University Dance team, and Meghan Houston, also a 2016 graduate, who is studying vocal performance at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Sprinkle choreographed the show while Guthrie assisted with the choreography after Sprinkle’s week-long tenure.
Sprinkle said she first found her love of theater from Straus and is eager to share and foster that passion to the kids she teaches.
“My love for the theater came from this camp, and I think theater fosters creativity and I think this community really benefits from a program like this,” Sprinkle said.
Houston serves as musical director.
“I hope that after this production, I’ve taught these kids about the musical side of theater because many of them have never read music before,” she said.
For Houston, being part of the Mary Poppins alumni group was all about giving back.
“I was in the camp since I was eight and have helped Bob out for the past five years. So, when he asked me to help out, I didn’t think twice,” Houston said. “I enjoy showing these kids what the arts are and how everyone can be a part of it.”
Heritage High School 2017 graduate Dylan Eggleston is the stage manager as well as set designer, applying concepts from her collegiate education at Savannah College of Art and Design.
“I get to see all aspects of the production and I am excited to share the perspective of being a former camper and now an assistant, with all these kids,” Eggleston said.
Recent Ambleside School of Fredericksburg graduate Emily Ashman is an assistant director and helping with make-up.
“This had made theater a hobby for me and I am so excited getting to work with people like Savannah that I looked up to,” Ashman said.
All have been a part of productions together and some point growing up and all but Sprinkle will take their turn on the stage.
“I remember Emily and Dylan and Meghan as kids and it’s so great to see them now, in their element, pursuing careers in the arts because of what we took to heart in this camp,” Sprinkle said. “It really meant something to us and to give back is a full-circle moment.”
Because many of these young adults have grown up learning from Straus, they were all eager to jump at the chance to work alongside him.
“I believe that he does this for the kids. Nothing about this camp benefits him, other than seeing kids perform and seeing kids like me form a love for theater,” Sprinkle said.
For Ashman and Eggleston, two students who did not attend public schools, Straus’s camp gave them a way to make friends.
“I have made so many friends through this and every summer we planned our summer around this theater camp,” Ashman said.
The first Straus production ran in 2002 as a way to supplement Theater Arts across school-aged children.
The first six years were solely based on teaching kids the basics of theater from acting techniques to the format of a play.
In 2008, Straus did the first musical and hasn’t slowed down since.
“We came to realize that there wasn’t an opportunity for young children to be a part of musicals,” Straus said. “This would be a chance for any kid, of any age to read music, understand choreography and understand teamwork.”
Straus said his camp is similar to that of running an athletic camp, but he notes that at some point, a student’s athletic career will come to a close. Theater, however, is something that can be done for a lifetime.
“You can sing, you can do creative things in the fine arts for your entire life,” he said. “You learn an appreciation for theater and understand how it reflects the history of the world.”
Coming out of their shell
Describing his camp in one word, Straus said, “Confidence.”
“It was made to serve a purpose of getting kids to be more confident performing in public,” he said. “We want these kids to become outgoing and comfortable with talking to people, whether that be in a small setting or on stage.”
“Theater teaches kids how to interact with people and how to be social and express feelings,” she said.
Having done this for many years, Straus understands that many will never have a career in theater, but hopes they gain an appreciation of the fine arts.
“I’m not trying to train these kids to be actors, but to give them an interest in what fine arts can be in their life,” he said. “This can be painting sets, or singing, or acting, or even learning about lighting.”
Straus gravitates toward Disney productions because of the familiarity and the messages.
“They teach great lessons to young children,” Straus said. “This play specifically teaches the importance of family, which to me is so important, especially in Fredericksburg where the families are so tight.”
Forty-six kids will be a part of Mary Poppins, Jr., which will run Aug. 3-5 at the Fredericksburg High School auditorium.