Sometimes the acting bug bites early. And, for pint-sized thespians in Smyrna, this time of year means the opportunity to go to Summer Theater Camp at the Smyrna Opera House where Jim McGuigan and Vera Mrohs have been coaching kids towards the "Great White Way" for nearly a decade.
Last week, about 30 kids from Smyrna and the surrounding area showed up for the first of two weeks of theater camp, led once again by Jim McGuigan and Vera Mrohs. The first five days are a crash course in the fundamentals of theater, from characterization and movement to improvisation and music while the second week is devoted to actual rehearsal time for an end-of-camp performance.
"They spent of lot of time last week doing lots of improvisation," Mrohs whispered just off-stage during Monday's rehearsal. "It gets their imaginations going and gets them thinking about how to interact once they're on the stage."
But, how do 30 kids get organized to produce a full-fledged play in 10 days? It's just how theater works, explained McGuigan.
"It's a magical thing, the way it all comes together," said McGuigan. "And, the kids deserve so much credit. They all work so well together and work so hard."
Mrohs agreed, adding that she's always amazed that the production comes together in 10 short days.
"On day one, nobody knows anybody," Mrohs said. "But, they have fun, they learn together and by day 10, it all just comes together."
Mrohs and MgGuigan make is sound easy but that may be due to their combined experience staging the summer camp for nine years now. As directors, there is a mutual respect and admiration for what the other does, causing each to sing the other's praises before his or her own.
"I couldn't do this without her," said McGuigan, referring to Mrohs, who is also the organist and choir director at First Presbyterian. "She'll take a song that's 52 pages long and tweak it down to a page or two so that the children can get through it."
Mrohs responds by trying to downplay her own efforts ("He's exaggerating") while pointing out that nine years together means nine years of original plays, written by a man who teaches history, not drama. She also pointed out how infectious his enthusiasm is.
"Look how much fun he's having," Mrohs said during Monday's blocking rehearsal, which is the first and most important play practice of the week since it is the blueprint for where each actor's lines and movements should be done while on the stage. Looking in the direction that Mrhoh's was pointing and McGuigan could be seen alternately pointing to spots on the stage or actually acting scenes out precisely where he wanted them done, sending the campers into fits of giggles.
Fourteen-year-old Macie Evans is one of those snickering participants. She's been going to the SOH Summer Theater Camp for six or seven years, partly because she loves to act and sing while interacting with her fellow campers but also because she loves the opportunity to perform "Mr. Mac's ideas and whatever he has bubbling in his head."
This year, what is bubbling in his head requires a serious suspension of disbelief: Two aliens, in the guise of children, visit the opera house hoping to learn something about humans and themselves.
"The kids like the fantasy genre," said McGuigan, who penned this summer's opus in the weeks ahead of camp. "I also try to pull music from current Broadway shows to introduce them to more tunes and get them more familiar with big shows."
This year's music includes two songs from "Annie," which McGuigan said most of the campers were already familiar with as well as one song from "Pippin," which is also enjoying a Broadway revival at the moment.
But, for all the learning that he wants the kids to do, McGuigan really just wants the campers to have as much fun as he is having.
"I have such a good time," McGuigan said while the kids took a break. "This is like a vacation for me. It's my fun highlight of the summer."