Lights. Sets. Action!
When the final school bell rings and summer commences, thousands of kids make their way to stages across Kansas City.
It’s where they can laugh, learn and express themselves in ways unique to the arts.
At Music Theater Heritage (MTH), where more than 250 kids enroll in theater camps and classes each summer, instructors enjoy seeing kids gain confidence and fall in love with theater.
“They will come in not sure of the environment and then, by the end of the week, they are bouncing off the walls,” said Robert McNichols, Jr., manager of education & outreach programs at MTH. “They find complete comfort and joy at the theater.”
Like other professional organizations that offer student programming over the summer, McNichols said the goal is for kids to have fun and find an appreciation for the arts.
“More than anything, I want kids to come, be in the theater, feel that energy, be around other kids who love theater. Do a li ttle musical theater, do some singing, do some dancing, do some acting and do some performing while having agood time.”
For some students, the taste of summer theater will spark a passion. But all students are likely to gain skills and memories that will stay with them for a lifetime.
“Summer is a time to make friends, grow in confidence, find new creative interests or train in a craft you already love, all while engaged in fun activities without academic pressure,” said Jeremiah Enna, executive director & founder of The Culture House. “The arts provide all of that.”
The electric atmosphere of summer crowds keeps drawing 17-year-old Robin Robles back to the stage.
Robles caught the theater bug at six years of age while watching a sibling’s friend perform on stage. Robles loves singing, dancing and acting, in general, but notes how special outdoor summer performances are.
“Singing and dancing outside is so fun, and it offers actors a different type of audience,” Robles said. “… At Theatre in the Park, the crowds are so exciting and make the actors backstage feel more loved. I feel that when the crowd reacts to our lines
and laughs, it helps us to act full out.”
In addition to performing with Theatre in the Park, Robles has performed with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Coterie Theatre, Spinning Tree Theatre and more.
Robles plans to study voice in college, but, for now, continues to dance at the Miller Marley School of Dance and Voice and take any opportunities available to perform on stage.
Phoebe Mock, senior at Olathe East High School, has embraced summer theater experiences, performing at Theatre in the Park and Starlight Theatre over the years.
“I have loved engaging in the arts over the summer because of the people I have gotten to know,” Mock said. “It is such a blast to perform in high-quality productions with amazing people.”
Theater comes naturally for Mock, whose father performed professionally in Kansas and would take Phoebe and her siblings along for performances. She also credits her dad for signing her up for classes at The Culture House, where she performed in several shows and took dance and acting lessons.
Her first Theatre in the Park experience was in the 2013 production of “Children of Eden.” She’s also performed in “Curtains,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “Frozen JR.”
Reed Pearman, sophomore at North Kansas City High School, first gave theater a go at age six.
But she didn’t become serious about theater until around 6th grade, when she performed in “101 Dalmatians.”
That next year, in summer 2019, she signed up for Music Theater Heritage’s Broadway Bound Camp and interned for a camp of younger students. She was hooked.
“I haven’t stopped since then,” she said. “I do theater wherever I can.”
In addition to being involved at MTH, she has performed with Music Theatre Kansas City, Gladstone Theatre in the Park, The White Theatre at The J and Theatre in the Park INDOOR.
“Musical theater is what I want to do for the rest of my life and being able to grow my resume, connections and skills is the best thing I can do at this point in my career,” she said. “I also love that I can be around people who enjoy what I enjoy to do.”
The stage is a natural home for Ryan Peterson.
The 7th grader at Harmony Middle School in Olathe got his start at StageworX when he was three years old. He also began dancing at Miller Marley School of Dance and Voice around the same time.
“My whole family is involved in theater,” Peterson noted. “So, it seemed like the normal thing for them to sign me up for camp!”
Since then, Peterson has gone on to perform with Theatre in the Park, The White Theatre at The J and Harmony Middle School.
And like summers in the past, he’s headed back to StageworX’s stage this summer.
“I enjoy [performing] with my friends,” he said. “We always have a good time. …I think that it has helped me get better at my dancing, singing and acting and it’s given me confidence.”