Instructor Elliot O’Rourke Peterson of Billings teaches students choreography to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” He graduated from Walnut Hill high school in 2009 and will graduate from Syracuse in 2013.
Story and photos
The Billings Outpost
At Venture Theatre’s summer camps, mornings are more than action packed. What kids wouldn’t want to start out the morning shredding air guitars and energizing their bodies to The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”?
This was the agenda for warm-ups on July 21. One hundred students in grades three through 12 gather every morning for warm-ups at Venture Theatre during this summer camp’s second session, running through Friday, July 30.
Sarah Butts, associate artistic director for Venture, said upwards of 300 students from all over the country were enrolled for the whole summer. Ms. Butts performed a piece, “Easy to Be Hard” from the upcoming show “Hair” to the students after the
Before she began she asked, “You may have heard of hippies?” She explained how a group of hippies wrote the musical in the ’60s and that theater can work in other forms as well as entertainment such as activism as it did with the musical “Hair.”
Following a standing ovation from the students, the room sang “Happy Birthday” to one of the younger students.
After warm-ups, each grade splits off to attend their classes. The students all wear the same T-shirt, which is white this year while the faculty wears the same blue tie-die shirt. Ms. Butts said every year the shirts are based off the Youth Conservatory show, which this year is the musical “Once on This Island.” The theme of camp this summer is from a song from the island production, “We Tell the Story.”
Ms. Butts said the theory behind everyone wearing the same shirt is not only for safety and to keep track of the kids downtown, especially at lunch time, but also to put every student on the same level so that clothing doesn’t become a competition or set any student aside.
Every grade is taught acting, movement, voice and improvisation. The elective classes, which the students get to choose, include classes such as how to write a short play, dance party, translating Shakespeare, audition materials, costuming, acting for the camera, mask making, silly songs, and fun with pipe cleaners.
Jamie Perros from Helena is teaching third- and fourth-grade dance class. The first part of the hour-long class was spent stretching to relaxing music like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” Ms. Perros explained to the students that it’s important to breathe.
“We are waking up our bodies,” Ms. Perros said. She had the kids lie down with their hands on their stomachs. “When you inhale you should feel your tummy rise to the ceiling, and it should come back down when you exhale.”
Throughout the stretches the students learned a lot of different muscles and what movements stretch certain muscles. One girl made sure to remind her classmates that it’s “hamstrings, not Hamlets.”
“When we dance, we count to eight,” Ms. Perros told the kids. “If you get tired, you are actors, so you can try to act like you have energy.”
She talked to them about level changing and how positioning your body at different levels of height and movement makes it more interesting and helps the audience see everyone on stage.
Ms. Butts said the classes are skills based. “The focus is on the classroom,” she said, “theater skills are life skills.” Ms. Butts said a lot of students come in to the camp very shy and by the end the students come out of their shell.
“These kids become who they are,” Ms. Butts said. “It’s amazing to see how they grow.”
At the end of camp, students show off their new skills and talents in a showcase that includes a few musical numbers including the longtime tradition for Venture camp, “We Go Together” from the musical “Grease,” and several short skits.
Sixth grader Tyler Gurchiek said this is his fifth year attending camp and his favorite part of Venture is the atmosphere. “Everyone is great,” he said. Tyler said he has learned different accents and dialects this year. He plans to act as a hobby while his big dream is to be a physicist.
Jose Rodriguez, a third-grader, said his favorite parts of camp so far are the dance classes and acting games. He said acting will be a hobby for him as well because he wants to be a BMX racer.
Assistant Katy Kemmick has attended seven summers of camp and said she loves assisting the dance classes and having fun. The three students described the overall tone of camp as amazing, awesome and inspiring. This is Venture’s 12th summer of camps. This summer’s camp sessions stretch across 10 weeks total. The instructors are from all over, but mainly Billings and other towns in Montana.
Natalie Keezer from Sun Valley, Idaho, is teaching acting to seventh-graders this session. “We are working on scenes and monologues,” Ms. Keezer said. “Sometimes they need a little push, but when they get up there, I love to watch them and see the ideas they come up with. The students can really surprise me.”
This is Ms. Keezer’s first visit to Billings. “I like Montana in general,” she said. “Everyone is awesome and really helpful if I need anything.”