My oldest son loves Superheroes: Batman, Superman, Robin, and Joker. I admit I know more about the Justice League than I ever thought possible. He loves imaginative play. He changes his voice for different characters. I love hearing him invent stories, all of which involve Batman saving the day. So, when I stumbled across Saratoga Children’s Theater (SCT) while scrolling through my Facebook Newsfeed one evening it hit me: maybe my kid would like acting? I was surprised to learn that SCT is so much more than just kids acting.
SCT has a mission: to educate kids not only in theater but in humanity. Leigh Berenis, a Saratoga native with a background in theater directing and performing, is the executive director of SCT. She believes theater teaches kids about things like history and math. “We take everything the kids have learned in school and work that into our programs. The shows we perform all have significant histories. The construction of the sets involve math. We are putting it all together and bringing things they’ve learned in school to life. It’s more though. It’s about showing up and being part of a team. It’s about being present. It’s about friendships and socializing,” she said.
SCT is entering into its 10th anniversary season in thanks to the sponsorship of the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust. The season will headline two shows. Friday, May 11 is the opening night of “Seussical Jr.” at the Saratoga Music Hall (3rd floor of City Hall in downtown Saratoga Springs). Tickets are $10 for general admission and kids under 10 are free. Friday, May 25 is the opening night of “Godspell” at the Saratoga Music Hall. Tickets are $12 for general admission and kids under 10 are free. The talented kids cast in the shows are from all over the Capital District.
“We are so much more than what people might think,” Berenis said. In addition to the shows in May, SCT offers camps throughout the summer for children ages 4 to 18 at Maple Avenue Middle School in Saratoga Springs. Rising Stars Camp is for the youngest children ages 4 to 6. According to Casey Gray, the director of development and music director/vocal instructor, the youngest campers learn songs and basic choreography in either a half-day or full-day camp. The Kids Camp is for campers ages 7 to 10. The Junior Camp is for ages 10 to 13. The Teens Camp is for ages 13 to 18. Last year was the first year of Tech Camp, which focuses on set building and other important behind the scene jobs. All the camps have themed weeks, including Disney Villains and Lions and Tigers and Bears…Oh My!, to name a few. At the end of each session campers will put on a show. Gray notes that some campers will start camp shy and reserved. “By the end they are singing on stage with no reservations. The parents will come up to us and be so overwhelmed with the progress their child has made over the course of just a few days,” he said. For Gray he finds joy helping kids come out of their shells and watching them find themselves whether on stage or behind the scenes.
There are a few camp rules. No cell phones. “It’s simply theater etiquette. Focus on each other and not on social media,” Gray said. Respect. “It is important to respect each other, the counselors, and the experts in the field of theater that offer their expertise during the camps,” Gray said. Have fun. SCT’s staff and counselors know how to show the kids a good time. In every summer camp there is a mix of new faces along with many returning campers. One of the current camp counselors has been involved with the program since he was a young camper. He is now in college majoring in math and economics. “This young man is an example of someone who loves coming to camp and acting but this doesn’t define him,” Berenis said. “You don’t have to be consumed by theater to be a part of our group.” According to Berenis, kids at camp are not just from Saratoga Springs. SCT spans far beyond the Capital District. “We’ve had campers from Brooklyn and Maryland,” she said. “Some kids come to summer in Saratoga with their families and take advantage of our camp while they are here.”
SCT does more than shows and camps. They offer dance classes, workshops and private vocal lessons. Some classes have no more than six students. Berenis notes staff connections in the theater world bring top-notch teachers and instructors to classes and workshops. “We call in people we know from all over the country and that are working in all elements of theater to expose our students to things beyond Saratoga Springs,” Gray said. The Student Ambassador Program is all about community outreach. This program gives student leaders the opportunity to promote the performing arts in their communities, receive service hours, and extracurricular leadership credit for their college resumes. SCT also participates in school residencies. This year Division Street Elementary School in Saratoga Springs will be the recipient of SCT’s triple threat: singing, dancing, and acting. According to Berenis and Gray, SCT staff will spend time teaching the elementary school students how to perform a show from beginning to end.
After 10 years SCT continues to evolve. Gray knows that this wouldn’t be possible without the support of SCT’s dedicated board of directors. “All of these people are an essential part to our success over the years,” he said. In addition to the numerous volunteers, SCT is also thankful for the financial support of donors and local businesses. This resulted in SCT awarding more than $7,000 in scholarship money last summer to underprivileged campers. “When I was a kid growing up in Saratoga Springs we didn’t have a program like SCT,” Berenis said. “I am so happy to give kids in our area a chance to be themselves and form lifelong bonds. SCT is so much more than just acting.”
For more information about SCT, including its upcoming 10th season shows and camps, and to learn how to support the theater, please visit its website: http://saratogachildrenstheatre.org/
Photos credited to Mark Bolles, Super Source Media LLC
Emily Marcason-Tolmie, a Saratoga native, is a writer, researcher, wife and mother. Emily and her husband, Ryan, are the parents to two wonderful little boys, ages 4 and 1.