published Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Curtain rises for productions by theater campers at Lee University

By Paul Leach
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    Staff File Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - The flame and fountain at Lee University serves as a foreground to a pickup basketball game.

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Lee University wraps up its ninth annual round of summer theater camps with student productions Thursday evening at the Edna Minor Conn Theatre.

Elementary students will perform a collection of plays based on folk tales at 6:30 p.m., and high school students will perform the comedy “Breaking News” at 7:30 p.m.

The camps aim to teach stage skills and more, according to Lee Theatre faculty member Dan Buck. Buck, who has several years of theatrical and improvisational performance experience, has a hands-on outlook.

“Theater wakes you up,” he said. “It’s healthy for people’s souls.”

The two-week camps give youngsters a chance to experience theater outside school, which often limits exposure to extracurricular activities as opposed to ongoing classes, Buck said.

Camper Nick Wilbanks, a high school junior, said he was turned on to theater after seeing a production of “My Fair Lady,” and he views the camp experience as a great way to get involved with the stage. He praised the instructors for being straightforward and getting down to business.

Ninth-grader Maddie Brashier, of Chickamauga, Ga., said the long daily trip was worthwhile because the camp has given her the chance to improve her theatrical skills.

“This is a chance for me to learn stage direction,” she said.

The summer camp exercises, rehearsals and productions also teach self-esteem, but not necessarily in an individual way, Buck said. He emphasized the importance of awakening students’ awareness of the world outside of themselves so they can perform as a team.

While rehearsals are meant to perfect a production, the building blocks for rehearsals include a number of games and exercises designed to improve the students’ confidence to explore and to take direction, Buck said.

A favorite game of the students is “Morph,” in which students take turns mimicking each other’s gestures and vocalizations, much like a round-robin version of hyperactive “Simon Says,” Buck said.

“The first thing we learn is that no one is cool,” he said. “The students need to have a safe place to fail. The task of putting on a play is the ultimate exercise.”

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland, Tenn. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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