Metro Theater Company’s mission is “inspired by the intelligence and emotional wisdom of young people, we create professional theater, foster inclusive community, and nurture meaningful learning through the arts.” As John Wolbers, the Resident Teaching Artist says, “What’s not to love?” For almost a half century, Metro has provided excellent opportunities for young people to explore and experience theater and to find their own theatrical voices and interests. Their “Grand Theater Camp” is no exception.
Each year, Metro Theater Company partners with Saint Louis University’s Summer at SLU program to challenge and engage middle school and high school students from the Saint Louis region and beyond in their Grand Theater Camp. Mr. Wolbers, along with Karen Weberman – Metro’s Education Director – a number of professional Teaching Artists from around the region, and several students from the Saint Louis University Theater Department have come together to create a warm atmosphere in which students are not only inspired to experiment with different styles of theater, but are also encouraged to build bonds of friendship and community that last from year to year, and transcend societal divisions.
“We use the arts to educate and help make the world a better place in tangible, sustainable ways. Whether it’s in a classroom teaching science while stepping into role as aliens, a camp learning about stage makeup, or an afterschool program learning about bullying prevention; it’s a pleasure coming to work every day.” Mr. Wolbers’ enthusiasm is shared by the rest of the staff, and is an integral part of their community building process.
The “Grand Theater Camp: Middle School” session spent their two weeks working on small group devised scenes, scripted scenes excerpted from favorite movies, and an improvised all-group scene which was presented at the end of the session.
“I love that the middle schoolers are starting to dip their toes into more serious issues. Both real life drama and perfectly timed comedy are on the table. At the same time, they’re still young enough to be silly and just play. Even the most stoic of middle schoolers still want to get up and do the Penguin Dance.” Indeed, as “Mr. John” leads a group of middle schoolers through their first Penguin dance, it is possible to see that the spark of playfulness is hard to contain.
Other activities designed to introduce new performers to different aspects of theater in fun and engaging ways included several improv games and typical theater warm ups, explorations of physicality and movement, and introductions to stage combat and make-up and costume design. Tours of the Fox Theater and of Metro Theater Company – complete with an opportunity to interview Metro’s Artistic Director, Julia Flood — are highlights of the session.
This year, for the first time, Grand Theater Camp has expanded to offer an Advanced Middle School session, which has proven highly successful. It has allowed those middle school students that have already taken the Middle School session – some for multiple years – to continue to develop their skills and aesthetics beyond what is typically possible in an introductory session. “Grand Theater Camp: Advanced Middle School” has taken the educational opportunities from introduction to the next level. This camp has begun explorations of different acting techniques, including those taught by Sandford Meisner, Uta Hagen, Anne Bogart, and Rudolf Laban. They’ve further explored how to develop a character from a scripted scene, in this case from shows they are not necessarily familiar with, and how to develop clear devised scenes and monologues. They are looking forward to their final sharing, and the chance to show their families what they have developed over the last two weeks.
The deadline to register for this years “Grand Theater Camp: High School” session is June 30th. Mr. Wolbers is ready for the session that runs the week of July 10th: “Of course the campers come eager to learn and explore the arts at a much deeper level. It’s fun to see the ones who already love theater and have a resume before graduation, but it’s almost more fun helping those brand new to theater develop a passion for the arts. The High School camp also affords the opportunity for expanding the meaningful partnership with Saint Louis University by giving a space for University professors to teach masterclasses with the campers.”
You can find registration information for Grand Theater Camp, as well as information on Metro’s upcoming season at http://metroplays.org/.