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Hear Philly: Walnut Street Theatre’s Young Actors Star At Camp Walnut

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Posters that line the walls at the Walnut Street Theatre. (Credit: Alexa Kelly)

Posters that line the walls at the Walnut Street Theatre. (Credit: Alexa Kelly)

By Alexa Kelly

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Walnut Street Theatre rolls out its snarky summer season with “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”, but more fun goes on behind the scenes with Camp Walnut, a performance program for kids.

The 21st summer of Camp Walnut starts July 7, and the 120 campers will sing, act and dance through August 3. 8 to 18-year-olds of all different skill levels learn from actors and theatre teachers in the Walnut Street Theatre.

Many Camp Walnut instructors are former campers and Walnut stage regulars. Actor Tara Tagliaferro stars in “How to Succeed”, and will work with campers this summer. Tagliaferro also performed in Walnut’s production of “Grease” last summer.

Walnut Street Theatre entrance. (Credit: Alexa Kelly)

Walnut Street Theatre entrance. (Credit: Alexa Kelly)

Though the program ends in August, some of the musical theatre campers will be back on Walnut’s stage in the fall. Instead of performing for parents and peers, musical theatre campers will entertain Walnut subscribers during the “Theatre for Kids” series.

Last year was the first time campers made the transition from camp to the official Walnut season, when they took “Seusical the Musical” to the main stage. This year campers will perform “Alice in Wonderland” on September 20 and 28.

Walnut’s Director of Education Thomas Quinn looks forward to seeing the work campers put into “Alice in Wonderland” during the summer pay off in the fall show. There will be a lot less stress this year preparing the “Theatre for Kids” production, according to Quinn. “We know it works, and we know it was a success, and particularly we know that the audiences who came in the fall really enjoyed it,” Quinn said. “It was a great experience for the kids, so we’re looking forward to doing it again.”

Camper Moriya Dichter and the theater's Director of Education, Thomas Quinn, in a Camp Walnut classroom. (Credit: Alexa Kelly)

Camper Moriya Dichter and the theater’s Director of Education, Thomas Quinn, in a Camp Walnut classroom. (Credit: Alexa Kelly)

Germantown Friends School freshman Moriya Dichter loves Camp Walnut. This will be her fifth summer with the program. She wants to work as a professional actor someday, but she wasn’t always so excited about performing. As a first-time camper, 11-year-old Dichter was shy.

“I was very scared, and I wasn’t really sure about other people,” she said. Yet, as she made friends and the weeks went by, she felt more and more comfortable. “I think that through developing my acting skills, I gained this confidence inside of me that I never really knew I had,” Dichter said.

Camp Walnut has three divisions — Discovery, Development and Performance, each with increasing difficulty. Campers spend half of each day in performance classes and the other half rehearsing for shows. The Discovery and Development ensembles create shows from scratch.

(Credit: Alexa Kelly)

(Credit: Alexa Kelly)

Dichter laughed as she explained the original show she and her friends devised last summer, a musical murder mystery about teens in detention. “Their teacher mysteriously dies from a cupcake,” she said. “They all had to come together and find out who was the murderer among them.”

Dichter hoped this summer to move into the Performance division, the most advanced group. “I feel like I’m at this point in my acting career where I want to be a little bit more serious,” she said. This performance ensemble will work on an abridged version of Shakespeare’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Quinn explained that every camper watches the Shakespeare play, including the eight-year-olds. “This play in particular is so funny. I know they’re going to enjoy it.” Quinn said. “I think it’s going to spark an interest in Shakespeare even in our youngest campers, and I’m excited to see that.”

(Credit: Alexa Kelly)

(Credit: Alexa Kelly)

For kids who are not serious about show business and Shakespeare, Quinn said that is not a problem. His daughter and son will return to Camp Walnut in July, and they have different approaches to the experience. “My kids I think are a great example of the two different sides to camp,” Quinn said. “My daughter probably wants to be pretty serious about [acting] someday and really studies it and thinks about being on stage. My son just comes and has a really good time, and that’s kind of what we’re going for. We want to be able to give kids a chance who want to study it and take it seriously, but we also want to create an environment where the kids enjoy themselves for four weeks, and I think we do a good job of that.”

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