Perhaps mid-summer you paused outside the former Bellefair United Church on your Saturday morning stroll along Queen. What was missing? Oh, yeah, that artsy sign welcoming campers to “the coolest place on Earth: Theatricks”.
Do not be disheartened: Theatricks, the theatre company for kids, has not met its demise; indeed it is now thriving at an even better location at St. Aidan’s Church, at Queen and Silver Birch.
Even if you don’t have kids, you should be happy to have this operation in the neighbourhood. If good karma were cookies, Theatricks would have bags’ full. There are so many good vibes happenin’ at this place, that they must reverberate all through the neighbourhood.
Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the bad analogies. Here’s the straight goods: Theatricks Co. 4 Kids is a tremendous privately-run theatre school offering theatre camp in the summer and extracurricular theatre classes in the winter. If you are in any doubt, yes, it has my stamp of approval. (But don’t even think about getting your kids involved. That would only make it harder for me to get my own daughter into the few coveted spaces. Kidding!)
What’s the summer camp all about? To start, they play games that teach theatre techniques. ‘Interview’, for example, helps the development of improv skills. A favourite game is Slo-Mo Wizards, which demands great control over movement.
Even break time is fun. When asked why, my daughter says, “Well, for starters, the counsellors actually play with us.” There is a ping pong table and art table set up for use during breaks. The ongoing foosball tournament pits mixed camper-counsellor teams against each other. The stereo is always playing for dancing. And they actually do dance. Once a day, the campers can sit back as the counsellors and leaders in training ham it up in a pretend game of survivor. And that’s just the break.
Each camp session of two weeks works toward a goal: THE PLAY. Theatricks plays always seem to follow the same line. There are these big bad guys who try to take over the world. Then there are these good guys who make a mess of it for a while but finally get their act together and save the world. It’s a model that works, as it allows for plenty of roles for deliciously awful bad guys, courageous underdogs, daft sidekicks, cute and sassy pipsqueaks, and a bunch of hapless heroes who come through in the end.
Here’s the best of it, though. The kids make the whole thing up. They develop the storyline, compose and memorize their lines, make their costumes, create the set, and learn a hip hop dance, too. If you want kids to learn and practise the fundamentals of theatrical performance, this is the place to be.
And the resulting performance? It’s an event. Every single camper has a role. They are all stars. And an interesting twist is that the counsellors – who have had years of Theatricks training – get right on stage with the kids. They are very good and very funny. Maybe the funniest of all are the Theatricks directors, Jeff and Cathie. My goodness, either one of those two could simply walk on stage, peer at the audience and, raise an eyebrow, and we’re all laughing uproariously. This is all very inspiring for the young actor/campers – it’s fun to be part of something so alive and energetic and … successful.
As the flyers say, Theatricks is “the coolest place on Earth.” I’d hazard a guess that they’re right. A big part of what makes it so cool are the counsellors in the troupe, who are mostly local boys and girls (oops, young men and women) who come home from university for a Theatricks summer job. As far back as I can remember, the same youngsters have always been there, starting out as young campers, but getting taller, more confident, and funnier every year (more responsible, too, I’m sure). These home-grown counsellors have a comfort level with the routines, teaching techniques, and all-around zaniness of Theatricks. (The directors even make it a condition of employment that you have to have been a camper before you can become a Theatricks counsellor.)
I am so pleased that my daughter can be coached and guided by counsellors who work hard, are responsible, and – best of all – can be silly. In other words, good role models. But it’s perhaps a little bit special that so many of them are young men who can do all that and be cool, too. Perhaps you’ve noticed the sorry lack of male teachers in elementary schools? And have you taken note of the examples of male coolness in the media lately? Good grief, how is a young person to learn that it’s possible to be cool without packing a gun or at least a snarl?
Every play concludes with a grand celebration: the kids are dancing and the music is playing, and then all the camper/actors run along a line-up of their counsellors (now friends), high-fiving their way off stage. It’s one of the most exhilarating conclusions to a summer camp I’ve ever seen.
Don’t forget, Theatricks offers evening and Saturday classes all winter.
Theatricks does not have a website. I guess they’re old fashioned. The best way to stay connected is to email Jeff and Cathie, and ask to get on their mailing list. Here’s the address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Margaret Hoogeveen is a local writer, editor, and mother of two school-aged daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com