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TOTS and summer means youth theatre


Most of the year Theatre Off The Square (TOTS) in Weatherford is known for its adult productions.

But summer is for the kids.

TOTS recently concluded its summer camp schedule for youngsters in kindergarten through ninth grades. Next, they have their annual children's production, a musical entitled "The Stinky Cheese Man & Other Fairly Stupid Tales," scheduled for July 29-Aug. 7, featuring performers from ages 8 to 17.

Laurie Jones, a TOTS board member and president of the Parker County Fine Arts Association, doing business as Theatre Off The Square, noted the mission is "to entertain our patrons with quality productions, educate our public about live theatre, and nurture theatrical talent through inclusivity, collaboration, and a strong partnership with our community.

"As you can see, we strive to educate our craft, and this most definitely includes the youth of our community. We have offered summer theatre camp for nine years and successfully, as we have interest in all of our classes each year."

Jones said not only do the campers receive training in aspects of the theatre arts, they form a sense of camaraderie. She noted that many have returned each year until they age out of camp and come back as helpers. Many have also auditioned for adult productions and/or become part of the TOTS production staffs.

Jones explained that attending camp does not mean a youth will subsequently be in the youth production.

"The youth production is run exactly like our other productions, in that there are auditions, then six weeks of evening rehearsals," she said.

"For the first couple of years, we did combine the yearly youth production (a straight play, not a musical). However, we chose to revamp and make each event separate. In our camp, we have thankfully grown each year to the point that our small space is pretty packed with kiddos during camp."

Jones stressed the importance of youngsters interested in theatre to start learning early. After all, who knows where the next Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep may come from?

"Some children have an innate ability to perform, but need to be guided and taught the basics to ensure a successful venture into the performing arts," she said. "Others are just wanting to do something fun, and perhaps out of the ordinary, and very often find theatre intriguing, thought provoking, and challenging."

Camps for grades 3-9 span two weeks and each class covers a special interest for various age levels. For example, these might include fight choreography, musical theatre, or improvisation.

The camp for grades K-2 is one week with a curriculum specifically designed for that age level. It introduces small campers to different aspects of creativity in theatre.

Youth who participate in the yearly youth production will experience all that an adult production would experience such as auditions, rehearsals, character analysis, and blocking.

This is only the second time the summer children's production has been a musical. Last season, after not having summer camp or a children's production in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, TOTS performed "The Rainbow Fish Musical" in the summer.

"We were totally closed. In January 2021 we reopened very carefully with a stringent protocol written by a special committee and an infectious disease nurse who was on our board of directors. Thankfully, all went well," Jones said. "So, we decided to proceed with summer camp and then the youth production. We had fewer classes offered that summer in camp, so that we wouldn’t be crowded, and by then, we could make mask wearing optional.

"Again, we were blessed to have both of these events turn out successfully."

Currently, masks are optional, and the theatre keeps a box of masks close by in case a patron chooses to wear one. If someone in a production contracts the virus, Jones said they have steps to take with other cast and crew members as a precaution.

"It is understood that most probably we will be dealing with some form of this virus from now on, so we will just adjust accordingly, as other performance venues do as well," she said.

Jones said that many youth from the summer activities have grown up and gone to universities and colleges and majored in theatre, going on to enter the "world of theatre."

"We, at Theatre Off The Square, are most proud!" she exclaimed.

The youth camps and production are also wonderful family opportunities, she said.

"Absolutely. Our youth production, especially, allows for participation from family members in areas of construction, costumes, backstage crew, front of house, and volunteers," she said. "We become one big creative family."


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