Moorestown Parks & Rec. marks 46th year of summer theater camp performances

The department’s Summer Theater Camp returns on June 25.

By: Amy Filippone, Dept. of Parks & Recreation

Moorestown Parks & Recreation Department’s Summer Theater Camp begins June 25 for ages 7 to 13 and marks the 46th year of summer performances. The production this year will be “Annie, Jr.” and will be directed by Madeline (Yedman) Mullen. Mullen is an alumna of the Moorestown Parks & Rec Summer Theater Camp, and she brings a very special dimension to the production. This show will be her seventeenth production of Summer Theater Camp, as a student or as a staff member.

She is not alone in her experience since nearly everyone on staff has also been through this Summer Theater Camp.

“I started doing the camp as an eight-year-old, and once I got old enough to be part of the staff, I did,” Mullen said. “It’s a very dedicated community since all of the staff members have done the shows in the past. It’s really rare. It’s kind of this place where you can’t really leave — in a good way.”

Kevin Kulp will be helping with the production this year. Mullen and Kulp met and became friends through Summer Theater Camp. Kulp has gone on to do national musical tours, appearing in “Beauty and the Beast.”

“It works out in his schedule that he can spend six weeks in Moorestown, using everything he’s learned on the road with these young students,” Mullen said.“We have a counselor, who I directed as a camper who’s now in her second year at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She’ll be sharing all of the skills she’s learned at college with our small town production.”

The camp is limited to 110 students and fills quickly. Students will audition the first two days, and everyone will receive a role. The audition process has been very thoughtfully designed to be instructive rather than a high-pressure performance.

“The audition process is very low-key. It’s an opportunity to learn the audition process,” Mullen said. “We choose a song and we learn the song as a staff and as a cast. The children have that day to audition and if they want to do it again the next day they can. My background is in special education so it’s helped me form the culture and climate that I want to foster in the theater program. We have a full day where we have a conversation about not getting the part that you want and what that feels like — and learning to be happy for somebody else who got something you wanted. I think that skill is applicable throughout your life.”

It is a six-week program, and it’s the first year back at Moorestown High School’s performance space since 2001.

“It really is a big deal,” Mullen said. “We’re back in a space that many kids have seen high school musicals in and being on that stage is like a dream of theirs. I think it really raises the atmosphere and the excitement for the show, so we’re really honored to be back in that venue.”

Another enriching aspect of Moorestown Rec.’s Summer Theater camp is its involvement with a summer Special Needs Camp which started in 2008. Since 2010, every Friday, the Special Needs camp is integrated into the theater camp.

A “buddy program” pairs every theater camper with a special needs camper. They learn the music and parts and have their own Special Needs performance just for special needs parents. Parents can sit in the front row and really see their child be featured in the show.

For this performance all parts are multi-cast with performers from both groups. The special needs performers mirror their buddies on stage. It’s an amazing opportunity for all involved. Similar to the audition process, campers learn empathy, acceptance and how to treat people. They ultimately form lifelong bonds with their buddies and call out to each other in the hallways of school.

“I feel like exposing children to theater, even if it’s not something they’re going to be doing for the rest of their lives, gives them an invaluable skill whether it be public speaking, confidence or just trying something new, ” Mullen said.

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