By Matthew Merril '22
Being a part of the theatre department at school is an incredible experience. While doing theatre outside of school is on a completely different playing field, it is similarly incredible. This past summer I attended Theatre Lab. Theatre Lab is a non-profit group that works to help teens who enjoy acting understand themselves as a performer. I had the pleasure of being a part of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. All people interested in beginning or continuing their theatre careers should try out-of-school theatre. I would recommend it especially to those who want a first-hand learning experience — it’s an incredible and worthwhile journey. The first step of the journey was the audition.
I had auditioned for the show after the majority of auditions, so the show was already cast. Personally, although slightly egotistical, I wanted validation that I was good enough to be a part of the program. I was the last to audition for the whole program, so I immediately assumed I was going to be cut. I remember driving to the Calvary Baptist Church (where Theatre Lab is located), completely unaware of what would ensue. I walked into a music studio with a piano and two people. I was shocked to find out these were the director and music director. My palms immediately got sweaty. Then it was my time to shine. I must admit that I killed my audition. I was proud of my 32-bar cut of Stars from Les Miserables. Just two days later I got an email that I was cast as a gargoyle and in the ensemble. Now all I had to do was wait.
The day of the first rehearsal finally came. I’ll admit the first three days were mentally very challenging. Five-hour rehearsals of just singing are not for the faint of heart. Once the cast moved past this milestone, the fun began. The actual theater itself was in the round, so with incredible direction, the ensemble pieces (of which the majority of the show was composed of) were coming together nicely. As mentioned before, five-hour rehearsals are hard. In order to succeed, I had to make friends. Initially, I was to make friends. As a relatively new “theatre kid,” I wasn’t sure how I’d be perceived. One thing about theatre kids is that, though at times they can be strange, they are the most accepting and supportive individuals you will ever meet. Some of my closest friendships have been forged through theatre. After Theatre Lab, I was proud to call myself a theatre kid.
One issue that I encountered was staying professional. Serious theatre programs which prepare students for careers require grit. From day one, all the kids were so into the piece. I, on the other hand, was not. Some of the dance moves seemed embarrassing to me. I was terrified to hear judgment from friends or family that I was being “weird.” However, the beautiful thing about theatre is its ability to build courage. Being courageous is such an important skill, and I learned it from theatre. Lastly, from day one, we were encouraged to take risks. The directors would much rather watch someone make an odd character choice than be bland on stage. These first-hand experiences helped me to develop the acting techniques I intend to improve from here on out. If anyone wants to continue acting throughout their life, summer programs are incredible for helping people take risks and be courageous.
There is no easy way to describe the experience of theatre camp or Theatre Lab specifically. When a group of people spend five hours together every day, it is inevitable they will bond. Countless ventures around Chinatown and the Portrait Gallery Museum before rehearsal easily formed relationships with castmates. Tech week was a whopping 12 hours a day. This show meant so much to each castmate. The music was phenomenal, as was the staging. The leads were mind-boggling. I still am baffled I had the chance to work with some of the most incredible teen actors out there. Building a show together, performing it together, and loving it together is truly what the whole experience is about.
Finally the verdict. Should you go to theatre camp? Well, the answer lies in your dedication. If you are willing to work and be focused, you will have the time of your life. If you want to become an incredible actor, Theatre Lab is the place to go to. The range of students’ skill level was amazing. The actress who played Esmeralda was on the Voice, while some students had never done a show before. No matter your skill level, if you want to improve theatrical skills or even life skills, go to theatre camp. Now there are a few cases where theatre camp is not recommended. If you are committed to many other things that would require you to miss many rehearsals, being in a show is not right for you. Each rehearsal brings you that much further to becoming the person you want to be and commitment is emphasized from day one. If you don’t enjoy singing nor willing to push your boundaries you may want to rethink theatre camp. All in all, Theatre Lab was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Though I was hesitant to make new friends and take risks at first, through time I became so self-aware as a performer and person.