BWW Previews: KIDSWORKS at Desert Theatreworks
When I hear the term "Summer Camp," I have an idyllic vision of canoes on a lake, arts and crafts (I was a whiz at braiding lanyards), and sappy songs around a campfire. That vision, as Margaret once said, is "gone with the wind." Today's youth want to have a good time exploring more relevant skills such as acting, singing and dancing. This month, the Valley's largest theatre camp, KidsWorks in Indio, will be performing three different shows. It looks like they are worthy of our attention.
In 2017, Desert Theatreworks' Producer Ron Phillips-Martinez and Artistic Director Lance Phillips-Martinez decided to try a summer youth program at their home venue, Indio Performing Arts Center (IPAC). They were pleased that 40 youngsters showed up. The enthusiasm of those first 40, combined with some marketing and a close relationship with the City of Indio, pumped the enrollment up to 135 students last summer. The word of those students and their parents traveled quickly, and this summer, the enrollment for KidsWorks is close to 300 students. They are all singing, dancing, and acting their hearts out, while learning both theatrical and general life skills, interacting with each other.
With such a large enrollment, company management skills are brought to the fore. The campers are divided into three separate age groups: 6 - 8, 9 - 12, and 13 - 19 years old. The two younger groups meet in the mornings, the teens in the afternoon, and each group has its own set of counselors, director, musical director, choreographer, and stage manager. The counselors are teenagers who earn their tuition by helping keep the younger campers organized, so those counselors are learning an additional set of skills.
Each of the campers will be involved in one of three separate productions. The youngest will perform Winnie the Pooh on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 23 and 24, at 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. The production is only a half-hour long, and except for those students who have chosen to explore stagecraft duties, all of the students will appear on stage.
The next age group will present Frozen Jr., a story that is near and dear to their hearts. They will be seen Saturday and Sunday, July 27 and 28, with shows at 3:00 and 6:00 each day. That show runs a bit over an hour.
The teens will actually have the first show to be presented, Disney's Newsies. Performances will be on Saturday and Sunday, July 20 and 21, with showtimes at 2:00 and 7:30. Artistic Director Lance Phillips-Martinez was quick to assure me that this is indeed the full 2.5 hour production, with the same script - and the same amount of dance numbers - as was presented on Broadway. Nothing has been "dumbed down for kids." He indicated that about half the cast are dancers, and the other half are given creative movement during the big numbers. He believes in letting the performers shine where they can shine best. Desert Theatreworks, the overall host company, has given local teens plenty of opportunities to work backstage, front-of-house, and actually onstage for their mainstage performances over the past several years, so they have nurtured a group that are ready to hold the spotlight center stage in major roles.
I'm sure the houses will be filled with parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends, but it seems like a good idea for the rest of us to just pop in for at least one of the shows to check out the talent that can be coaxed out of even the youngest performers with the right artistic motivation. Chances are, the skills they are pursuing will outlast the lanyards that I braided.