“Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!”
It’s a line Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney made famous in the 1939 film “Babes in Arms,” and ever since, it’s been a rallying cry for anyone who’s wanted to put on (and star in) a musical.
At Bellevue Dance Academy’s summer theater camp, kids can do exactly that, thanks to owner Susan Quint, who began the summer camp program in 2007. As a former high school theater teacher, it was a perfect fit.
“I had done all kinds of shows,” she said. “It was natural.”
For her, natural means putting on a real musical in just two weeks — from the first stumbling auditions and tentative read-throughs to taking to the stage in full makeup and costumes and performing to a packed house.
“It’s a full-length musical with all the whiz bangs,” she said. “We perform in a real theater, with real lights, costumes and sets.”
Although the camp is held at a dance academy, dance experience is not a requirement.
“There are a lot of non-dancers,” Quint said. “Seventy-five percent don’t even dance. They’re here for the theater experience.”
That theater experience involves performing a musical with which most kids are already familiar, such as last year’s production of “My Son Pinocchio” and this year’s planned performance of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
Quint uses scripts and scores from Musical Theater International’s Junior Collection, which creates abridged musicals with references and supporting materials and provides personalized scripts for each camper.
Typically, 40 campers ranging in age from 5 to 18 take part in the two-week camp.
“It’s a neat experience to have kids of different ages work together to create a musical in two weeks,” Quint said.
Over the course of the two weeks, she and her staff approach the camp’s performing arts curriculum writ large, focusing on singing, creative movement, dance, scene work, improvisation and stage combat — emphasizing everything that rehearsals for a musical months in production would entail.
In addition to learning lines, songs and choreography, campers also do activities such as play theater games, which helps bring children out of their shells.
“Even for the kids who are shy, there is something for them to do,” Quint said. “We find a place for everyone to feel comfortable. Everyone can be involved.”
Most frequently, though, campers don’t just come out of their shells; they shatter them.
“We see so much growth,” she said. “Some campers have been so shy and so reserved, but you can see their wheels turning and see them watching the process, and then they perform and are so proud. We see their self-confidence grow and see a lot of kids grow so much emotionally.”
Part of that emotional growth comes from working together as a cast.
“There’s something very character building about working together so closely,” Quint said. “The kids get so much more out of the camp than performing. They gain friendships, gain confidence and one of the biggest things they gain is a sense of accomplishment.
“They put together a show in two weeks that they can be proud of. That carries over into real life.”
The experience resonates with the campers.
“It’s really precious,” she said. “Every year we have a camper who cries because they won’t see everyone anymore. It’s amazing how the relationships grow.”
Her daughter Ally, now 17, started participating in the camps from the beginning and knows this only too well.
“I’ve always had a blast,” she said. “We look forward to it every summer. We become a family in two weeks.”
And in true Garland and Rooney fashion, that family puts on a heck of a show.
“Parents come up to us and say, ‘I liked this better than my son’s high school musical,’” Susan Quint said.
And for her that makes all the work worthwhile.
“There is something very special and truly unique about this camp,” she said. “People block out time for it. Families plan their vacations around it.”