By Tyler H. Jones
LaGRANGE — The sounds of clinking piano keys and conversing children filled the black box theater at the Lafayette Society for Performing Arts on Thursday during the fourth day of a two-week summer theater day camp.
Two dozen children, ranging in ages from 7 to 15 are working this week and next to rehearse and perform the 1977 Broadway musical “Annie,” slated for two shows at the end of the camp Friday.
The organized chaos in the black box theater came to a freeze when camp director Valerie Longshore-Sargent rhythmically clapped her hands – a call to which the children respond with their own clap. Their gazes turned from one another toward Longshore-Sargent as she called out instructions.
Rushing to take their places on stage, the children ready to rehearse something they’ve been learning all week at the camp. First, it’s their blocking – where to stand and when. Once everyone found their places, Longshore-Sargent called for the music to begin. The familiar tune, “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” piped in on a sound system and the children’s voices coalesced to fill the room.
“The kids are working really well together,” Longshore-Sargent said. “They’re doing great – really acting like young professionals.”
Most of the camp is dedicated to learning about theater arts, but Longshore-Sargent said the program has so many more lessons – some having nothing to do with theater – tucked away in the program.
“They’re learning life skills, not just theater,” she said. “They’re learning how to talk to each other, to treat each other with fairness and be positive, but still have a critical eye. It’s a lot of the same things you’d learn on a sports team.”
Longshore-Sargent, who has taught theater for 10 years and directed the LSPA’s summer theater camp for five years, said in between the rehearsals that the children play games are meant to teach lessons and skills.
“We play games that teach expression, that encourage team building and push them to take healthy risks,” she said. “It’s real learning, but it’s disguised as fun.”
Charlie Key, a 9-year-old girl who plays the lead role of Annie, said she’s enjoying the camp and is excited about performing.
At camp “I get to do what I like,” she said. “Singing and dancing are probably my favorite parts.”
Performing in front of people is something that Key has done before – she said she’s acted with the New Horizons Theater in West Point and has been in plays at her school, Hollis Hand Elementary. Still, she sometimes gets butterflies when she goes on stage.
“I get nervous,” she said. “My mama said it’s good to be nervous, because you can use it to help you on stage.”
With Key and 23 other youngsters to supervise and corral, Longshore-Sargent would be hard-pressed to go it alone. That’s why she has five volunteer helpers who take on roles that not only help her, but also help them gain experience in the professional theater world.
Madison Finney, a rising senior at Harris County High School in Hamilton, is the theater camp’s choreographer. She said she’s been doing that type of work for several years and choreographing isn’t the hard part, it’s keeping the children’s attention.
“It’s been a challenge to adjust from working with teens to kids,” she said. “You have to teach them about why we’re (choreographing it) this way, and how it helps tell the story.”
Finney is willing to be patient, though. She knows how important an appreciation for the arts can be, and she volunteers to help introduce children to acting and theater.
“The process (of theater) is a great thing for students to learn. It helps them break out of their shell and be more comfortable. This is really where Broadway starts.”
“Annie” is open to the public and is slated to be performed Friday at the LSPA’s black box theater, 214 Bull St., at 5 and 7 p.m. For more information about the LSPA, call 706-882-9909.
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter for LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.
Director Valerie Longshore-Sargent, kneeling, speaks with child actors Thursday at the Lafayette Society for Performing Arts’ summer day camp at the LSPA Black Box Theater, 214 Bull St. The two-week youth camp is producing the musical “Annie,” which performs Friday at 5 and 7 p.m. at the LSPA theater.
Walker Kemp, from left, Addie Eiland and Kaylee Key rehearse the 1977 Broadway musical ‘Annie’ on stage Thursday at the Lafayette Society for Performing Arts on Bull Street. The show is slated for Friday at the LSPA Black Box Theater, 214 Bull St., at 5 and 7 p.m.