I was in the drama club in middle school from sixth grade until the middle of eighth grade when we moved. I liked the idea of the theater but I was too shy to perform so in that two and half years I either played bit parts or took backstage jobs. The pinnacle of my dramatic career was the fall of my eighth-grade year when my best friend and I were co-stage managers for a production of Annie. I was at after-school rehearsals for months and like a lot of kids in the late 70s and early 80s, I had the soundtrack to the Broadway musical. My sister I used to sing the songs a lot and tape record ourselves doing so. Sadly, I don’t think any of these recordings survive, but the songs remain deeply engraved in my brain.
So I was excited to hear the musical June’s drama camp director chose for this summer was Annie. June attended the same camp last year (in a younger age group) and they did The Sound of Music (“A Few of My Favorite Things” 7/16/11), which was fun, but not as much of a personal touchstone for me. Before camp started the director, Gretchen, sent MP3 files of the four songs the campers needed to learn and June did listen to them a few times but what she really liked was the movie. We rented the 1999 Disney version. June watched it in its entirety four times over the course of five days and I let her watch the scenes with the songs she needed to learn as often as she wanted without counting it as media time, so she must have watched those at least a dozen times.
As a result she knew the songs very well when she showed up for the first day of camp Monday morning, much better than she’d known the Sound of Music songs out of the gate. (I wouldn’t let her watch that movie last summer, thinking the Nazis would be too much for her. I might have given it a go this summer.) It was a good thing, too, because Gretchen got right down to business, casting the girls on the first day.
I knew the campers would get to state a preference and when I asked June which character she’d like to play, she said “Annie!” and then after thinking about being the star of the show for about thirty seconds, changed her mind, settling on Molly. Since the camp was for six to nine year olds I didn’t think there was much chance she’d be one of the Annies (the role was shared) but I thought Molly would be a great part for June. She’s the smallest orphan and I knew June would probably be the smallest girl there. But more than that, Molly’s sweet and spunky personality seemed like a good fit for June. I will admit I’d gotten invested in this choice by the time June changed her mind again (and again). In the end she said she’d like to be Kate or July and Gretchen cast her as Kate, after listening to her read some of Kate’s lines. According to June, Gretchen liked her rendering of “Holy cow! Annie’s on the radio!”
Once she was cast, June had to learn her lines. She had four spoken lines, and two solos–two lines in “Maybe” and one line in “Hard-Knock Life.” Gretchen told me at pick-up one day that she was impressed with how seriously June was taking her role and what a leader she was. She re-arranged the choreography to move June front and center in “Hard-Knock Life” as a result.
Over the course of the week the girls built and painted a cardboard New York skyline, splattered their costumes with paint and distressed them for the proper orphan look. (We’d bought June an outfit at a thrift store the previous weekend. She went with a black and white jumper over a black blouse because she thought it looked suitably drab.) The actors learned the choreography for all four songs, and they practiced, practiced and practiced. When I came into the community center auditorium to fetch June every afternoon at two o’clock, there was usually a dance number in progress. I watched the girls learn to bang their buckets on the floor in unison and on the beat in “Hard-Knock Life” and kick and wave in the chorus line of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.”
After camp, June and I would take the bus to Silver Spring to get Noah at his drama camp. (It was the only week this summer both kids were in camp at the same time.) His camp let out at four so we usually had at least an hour to kill. We played Sleeping Queens in Starbucks, and Smoothie King and Cake Love, and we read Ramona and her Father and Ramona and Her Mother and I watched her splash in the fountain.
At Noah’s camp (Round House, where he’s gone every summer since he was June’s age) the kids were dismissed into the lobby so I didn’t get to see his work in progress to the same extent, but he did occasionally give me a report and their artwork was displayed in the corridor every day. It was a session on theatrical production and design so they studied set, costume, lighting, sound and projection. They designed their ideal bedrooms to practice sketching an aerial view of a scene. (When I saw the drawings tacked up on the wall, I knew which one was Noah’s even though they weren’t signed. It was the one with the teleporter and vaporization ray, of course.) They practiced painting cardboard with wood-grain and granite patterns. They sketched costumes, both for Young Robin Hood and for their own skits. Toward the end of the week, they got to walk up on the grid where the lights are. For their performance, they were divided into groups and each group worked on a short skit. The scripts were minimalist exchanges between two to three actors they could alter as needed. The real point was working on the technical aspects of the scene.
Friday was show time for both kids. Beth took the afternoon off and we met at the Community Center auditorium at 1:30. June had rushed up to me when I arrived alone, saying, “I thought Beth was coming.” I assured her Beth would be there.
And soon she was. June ran over again and gave her a big hug. Gretchen began the performance, in character as Miss Hannigan, explaining to the audience of parents that if any of us would like to take any of the “rotten orphans” off her hands after the show, we could. It stuck me momentarily what a strange thing it is for a group of parents to watch their well-loved and provided-for children play at poverty and neglect. But I couldn’t think about that very long because the show swept me away. Some songs were better executed than others, but overall, for only twenty-five hours of rehearsal the whole thing was pretty impressive. They sang their hearts out; they nailed the bucket banging. June shone as Kate. She was audible (the first hurdle in any performance of kids her age) and expressive and just too cute for words.
So I will fulfill my duty as her doting mother and provide video of the show (it’s about fourteen minutes), but if you only watch one song—watch “Hard-Knock Life.” She’s great in that one. She’s got the righteous indignation down pat.
After a brief interlude at home, during which Beth and I each snuck in some work time while June watched television, we headed over to Round House for Noah’s performance. First I we admired all the sketches in the corridor and then we took our seats, making sure to get into the front row so June could see. The counselors talked about all the aspects of design the campers had studied. At the beginning each skit, sketches of the costumes the kids would have worn if they’d had a costume shop at their disposal flashed on a screen. Then it was replaced by ground plans of the set, and finally a backdrop for the action. Noah’s skit was the only one that incorporated changes in the backdrop during the scene. He was particularly proud of the lighting, because after some experimentation, he and his partner managed to eliminate some “ugly” shadows.
Here’s the skit. It’s very short.
Once the performance was over, we headed over to the Silver Spring fountain so June could play in the water. She was still sailing on a post-performance high, singing “Tomorrow” at full volume as she dashed through the spray. We had an early dinner at Z pizza and got dessert at FroZenYo.
At Round House camps, particularly for Noah’s age group, they always promote whatever shows are going on at the theater and Noah suggested we see one this weekend. So on Saturday afternoon, we headed back to the very same theater where he’d been all week and watched a one-woman mime show called The Suitcase Story. June thought the character was “kind of crazy and not very smart.” I thought she represented an allegory about self-discovery. Beth was alarmed that there was audience participation, but she herself was not called upon to participate. At one point the actor came up the aisle and indicated she would like June to point to a place on the map where she ought to go. June gave a comic look of indecision. The audience laughed and June seemed to enjoy being in the spotlight.
On hearing about June’s theatrical experience, our friend Tom, an actor and playwright himself, said he thought he saw an obsession coming on. Perhaps. June is still singing the songs from Annie around the clock and next week she’ll be heading to Round House herself for another week of drama camp. Drama camp, whether at the Round House, the Purple School or the Community center, is what our kids do without fail every summer. And year round, they enjoy singing and writing stories and making their own movies. At our house, it’s always show time.