Kids dream big at theater camp

July 31, 2008 4:00:23 PM PDT
For hundreds of local students, it's an opportunity of a lifetime. They're spending their summer on stage, honing their skills with professional performers as their guides. This camp is unique on so many levels. Its main location is the Annenberg Arts Center on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, and it brings together children and teenagers from all over Philadelphia... from the inner city to the suburbs:

The Young Performers Theatre Camp began in 1995 with 70 kids... it has grown to 400.

More than 50 of the campers, ages 15 to 18, are practicing for a production of "Into the Woods" to be presented next week. Most have been coming for years, like Denzell Ivery, from the Creative and performing Arts High School.

Denzell says, "Everyone here loves everyone else here. You can't be an outsider here."

A third of the instructors are former campers.

About 25-percent of the students will have careers in the performing arts. Denzell hopes to perform on Broadway. "That's where my heart is; I just love the energy of the audience. That's the best part about being on stage."

But for others, like Jordan Zelenenki, who plans to go to nursing school, it's a way to battle timidity. "At first I was nervous. But now I have no problem being in front of a live audience."

Performing arts coordinator Tom Dignam says, "The main focus is to develop their social skills, build self-confidence, self-esteem... working together!"

Students from 108 schools in the Philadelphia area audition to be there to study musical theatre or dance.

The 180 dancers spread throughout the Annenberg Center practicing jazz, ballet and tap, for a concert next week. And not all of them are girls. 13-year-old Geordon Morgan-Allen of Yeadon is one of the best!

17-year-old Amber Johnson is a 10-year camper, who's now a counselor-in-training.

"It's a miracle to get a show together in 6 weeks, but everyone works hard, everyone's dedicated. Everyone should have a great show," said Johnson. On the dance floor, and back in the theatre, that's exactly what they plan to do.

It is the largest comprehensive performing arts program in the city that's open to the public.

Next week, the campers will present 5 different productions and 18 performances at the Annenberg Center... most of them are already sold out!

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