Vermont Arts Council

Beneath the Surface

The brochure reads, “Here at The Barre Opera House, we care about the performance, but our camp motto is ‘process over product.’  Let’s have a great theater experience this summer!”

For the last two weeks, thirty kids ages 10-17 have been immersed a well-planned, expertly staffed, and skillfully executed theater camp. They are gearing up to perform “The Little Mermaid Jr.” early Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. There’s a lot to learn.

Why Did I Wait?

It wasn’t easy for Dan Casey, the busy executive director at the Barre Opera House, to consider adding another program. “Four years ago the board and staff prioritized educational youth programs as a next step for the organization,” Dan explained, “so we gave the summer camps a shot. They were immediately well-received and since then most of the sessions have been filled to capacity. So, apparently the need was there.” Now Dan wonders why he didn’t start the programs sooner. “Adding the camps has really been one of the best decisions we’ve made as an organization since the theater reopened in 1982. What was normally a very quiet time of the year — one dedicated primarily to fundraising, programming, and marketing the coming season — is now also filled with music, dance, and the happy sounds of kids engaged in fun and horizon-expanding activities.”

Crowd Pic (520x379)

This year, the first week of camp was held at the Contemporary Dance and Fitness studio in Montpelier. “Each year, Contemporary Dance and Fitness rents the opera house for a week for rehearsals and its annual recitals. We thought it would be fun to collaborate with them this season and put a bit more emphasis on the dance component of the camp. It’s worked out really well and has generated more interest from families in Montpelier.” Young actors come to camp from all the nearby schools: U-32, Spaulding and Montpelier High Schools, Main Street Middle School, Rumney School, and the Barre Town and Barre City Elementary/Middle Schools. And, Dan adds, “we also have a camper from Lexington, Mass. and two Norwegian kids!”

A Big Creation

Sorsha Anderson is the camp director. She had “a prior life as an actress in New York.” She also raised a theater-loving son, and works at Rumney School. She is precise and on purpose; she states in a percentage how much of the time the kids should be having fun (it’s 75, by the way). The word she used for putting on a show at the end of two weeks was “intense.” Intern Zoey Olson agreed. “You have to learn things really really fast in order to make the production by the end of the (second) week.”


Auditions are held the first day. Seventeen girls sing for the part of Ariel. The energy of choosing the cast hangs in the air for a couple of days. Sorsha advises everyone, “Give yourself time to feel disappointed, give your classmates space to feel disappointed, and then, get to work!” And they do. The actors are learning dialogue, songs, and dances.

Five of six princesses were available to model their costumes.

By the end of the week they are ready to run the play all the way through. They are vocalizing and moving with each other in front of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. They’re learning a musical, and much more. Sorsha explains, “Whether or not they ever go on to be on stage again, it’s so great for young people to be able to get in front of people and find their voice.”

Zoey remembers the feeling. “At this age, especially for girls, it’s really awkward. You’re trying to figure out who you are… Theater is such a good tool to gain self confidence and know yourself more, and you also gain such a family.”

By the middle of the second week girls are trying on costumes, which have just arrived. “That’s the best dress,” says one princess to another. “I think so, too,” she answers. They pose. The cooks are on stage fine-tuning their dance as the boy playing Chef Louis sings about fish. Camp Choreographer Amia Cervantes tells me the costumes arrived at just the right moment; they are a good reminder there actually is a performance coming up. She is not the first to say that the schedule seems daunting the first week. Now it seems everything is unfolding right on time.

Chef Louis shares the joy of cooking fish.

The Results

Today, the campers will run the play at a dress rehearsal. Tomorrow, they’ll perform the play for an audience. In addition to their learning their lines, choreography, and several tunes they’ve learned confidence, perseverance, and focus. Everyone has worked hard — the camp attendees, interns, and staff.

If you’d like to offer a “Bravo!” in person, visit the Barre Opera House. Admission is a suggested donation of $10 for adults, $5 for youth.

Camp staff is: Sorsha Anderson, director; Dan Bruce, musical director, Amia Cervantes, choreographer. Interns are Zoey Olson (Northwestern University) and Noah Witke (U-32 High School).

photo album

Susan McDowell