A Day in the Life of Camp Broadway

News   A Day in the Life of Camp Broadway
Shortly after 10 AM, Aug. 13, a crowd of young people shuffles into Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, home of Titanic. The kids see an empty stage lit by a work light -- or a "ghost light" as Titanic production supervisor Gene O'Donovan explains, to keep theatre ghosts from tripping on wires.

Shortly after 10 AM, Aug. 13, a crowd of young people shuffles into Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, home of Titanic. The kids see an empty stage lit by a work light -- or a "ghost light" as Titanic production supervisor Gene O'Donovan explains, to keep theatre ghosts from tripping on wires.

That's the kind of theatre lore passed along each day to the campers of Camp Broadway, who, as they sing in their camp song, "are shining every day." At the week-long camp, the kids take classes in singing, dancing and acting and also meet professional performers and designers. Today's schedule includes a talk with the professionals behind the scenes at Titanic, lunch at Sardi's theatrical restaurant, and a matinee performance of either Titanic, Les Miserables, Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk or The King and I.

"My goal in life is to be on Broadway and I wanted to learn what it takes to be on Broadway," says Leigh Jones, 11, from Wilmington, NC. I'm going to see the show (Titanic) later on so it will be neat to know how they do it."

Titanic production stage manager Susan Green and associate costume designer Scott Traugott join O' Donovan to share their experience with the campers.

"Back-stage is much more choreographed than on-stage," she says, with more than 50 crew members and 40 performers. Some of the campers notice television monitors on the lighting ladders and Green explains that the actors need them in order to see the conductor at all times. Green came to stage managing as an actress who wasn't getting enough work and has stage managed touring shows like The Phantom of the Opera and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Part of her job is to rehearse understudies, who are about to rehearse as the campers head to the lower lobby for more discussion about costumes. "We felt that because it actually happened, we had to be able to say it was authentic," Traugott explains. Buttons on Titanic officer costumes were copied from buttons worn by original crew members. The wool used for the same costumes comes from mill that wove the wool used for the original uniforms as well. With a budget of $1 million, 175 costumes were designed and constructed.

Campers asks questions like "Who pays for the show?" (producers and investors), "How much do actors get paid?" (It depends on the role) and "Do you have time to be married?" (Yes, O'Donovan will be married next week).

After a quick photo shoot, the kids head over to Sardi's through Shubert Alley.

Leigh Ann Lirned, from Florida, is almost 11, and says, "There's a lot that I didn't know about the stage work behind the scenes." She particularly enjoyed learning "How to put the make-up on for stage lighting, I'm going to practice that at home."

Nine-year-old Tyler Plemons of Birmingham is a big fan of Carol Channing and Hello Dolly! but hasn't decided yet whether he will be a baseball player or an actor. "This is fun!" he says, as a radio reporter pulls him away from his lunch for an interview.

Joining the campers for lunch are kids from the casts of Annie, Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables, The King and I and A Doll's House.

R.J. Remo plays Prince Chulalongkorn in The King and I and says his favorite part of the show is, "Being king at the end." His favorite Broadway performers? "Lou Diamond Phillips, Donna Murphy, Faith Prince." R. J. says that the theatre is "a workplace, you can't really play because you work there. You have to treat your fellow performers the way you want to be treated."

Ragtime lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty talk about their experience in musical theatre and answer questions from the campers, who gasp when they learn that the team wrote the music and lyrics for the upcoming animated feature Anastasia.

"I've loved music for as long as I can remember," says Flaherty, who wrote his first musical at age 14 in Pittsburgh, about Siamese twins. Ahrens says she "always knew that in some form or another I'd be involved in writing songs." The two paired up in 1983 at a BMI musical theatre workshop and had their first critical success with Once on This Island, which they followed with My Favorite Year.

They work together in a room with a tape recorder going so that none of their improvisations are forgotten. "You have to enjoy writing together," says Flaherty, "But also enjoy each other." He likens songwriting for theatre to making a costume with a specific performer in mind, "You hear their voices singing back to you." Success for Flaherty is knowing, "Someone wants to sing your songs." Ahrens tells campers that her work, "Is the hardest thing to do. It takes every brain cell you have, and then you borrow some."

Ahrens, composer of Schoolhouse Rock, told Playbill On-Line that she thinks Camp Broadway "is a fantastic idea. I think anything that encourages children who are interested in the theatre to immerse themselves in it is fantastic. I came to the theatre really late in my life. I was a little theatrical imp, but my family never went to theatre."

Jennifer Hoguet, 12, of Cincinnati, OH says Camp Broadway "is really fun because they (the camp's instructors) work you and you kind of get a sense of it- " Jennifer is interrupted by a waiter offering her hors d'oeuvres, "I'd love to be on Broadway," she continues, "but I know it's really hard, so I'd love to work in the theatre somehow. Maybe direct, choreograph, do costumes or make-up, something in the theatre."

"I was kind of born to be on-stage," says 12-year old Amy Daven of Wilmington, NC. Jennifer interrupts, "There are so many other people out there who were too."

Jennifer just finished a professional theatre job and has done a lot of community theatre. "I've only been in about 20 shows," says Amy, who started in theatre when she was 8 years old.

Amy has never been to a city as large as New York and says, "It's like a dream come true!" Jennifer adds, "My dream came true was last night when I saw Rent,now I'm an official Rent-head, but this is really fun too."

"I really admire Joel Grey and Bebe Neuwirth," says Jennifer, "Yul Brynner," adds Amy, "He was wonderful in The King and I."

Listening to the people behind the scenes of Titanic "was really interesting because it's a really technical show. We really don't hear a lot about technical things behind the scenes, " says Jennifer, "I didn't realize how many people it took to put on a thing like this and also how difficult it is and how much money it costs," adds Amy.

"I've learned that I don't think I'm quite ready for Broadway," says Amy.

"I'm always ready for Broadway!" Jennifer exclaims, but observes, "I've really gained a better sense about what life on Broadway really is."

After a lunch of hamburgers and fries with ice cream and cookies for dessert, the campers sing their camp song, "Everyone's a Star at Camp Broadway." As they leave to see matinee performances, one camper says, "I think I can be on Broadway now. I sang for someone other than myself."

--By Laura MacDonald

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