10th anniversary of youth summertime theater
Prineville Music Theater Camp has been a visible part of the summers in the Prineville community since 2010. This season will mark the 10th anniversary of performances for the program.
The theater camp began during the time of the recession when art programs in Oregon schools had taken a big hit.
Michelle Moore was a music teacher who had substituted in the Crook County School District at the time the music programs in the elementary schools were cut. At that time, Moore and the current executive director, Barbara Punch, were the innovators who brought the Prineville Music Theater Camp to life. They saw the need for music and arts for youth in the community, and the camp became a reality.
Punch indicated that initially, Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Prineville had funds available for a children's program. They were able to put the money towards music and theater. The theater camp grew, and they started applying for grants within the first couple of years. The Oregon Community Foundation has been a funder from the beginning, as has the Crook County Cultural Coalition. By default, Punch has become the grant writer.
"We are always looking for foundation support, but we have also gotten much better at fundraisers," said Punch.
"We really have sort of spread into the community the last few years." Punch said of their efforts to reach into the community and garner support.
She added that the group shows up each year to sing for the local Kiwanis club. They are always looking for new ideas and new sources of funding. They started asking for admission to attend the performance last summer for community members over the age of 11.
"We wanted to have the community recognize that it's an expensive project to put on and that they can be part of supporting that work."
The current director, Colleen Holbrook, has been involved with the theater group for four years. Moore moved to Mexico when she couldn't find permanent work due to budget cuts in the Central Oregon area. She came back in the summers to direct the Prineville Music Theater Camp until 2017, when she passed away from cancer—leaving a huge void. Holbrook took the position out of love for the work and to keep the program alive.
"It was hard for those kids, because they loved Michelle," indicated Holbrook. "I was only able to work with her that one year—and I can understand why. She was a very charismatic, very kind, loving, dynamic person. It was tough to lose someone that important to them."
Holbrook said that the young actors did a good job transitioning to a new director that did things differently.
"They were patient and I tried to be as accommodating as I could. We dedicated that next (performance) to Michelle. We think of her all the time. It's been a lot of fun for me to step in and do this, and I learn more every year."
Punch pointed out that they had all grown as the program has expanded.
"Now we expect to have 40 kids," elaborated Punch. "Now we are buying a trailer to store all our stuff, because we don't rehearse in the same place that we perform."
The camp started in the basement of Our Savior's Lutheran Church. The first few performances were held in the sanctuary. They soon outgrew that space, and moved to Pioneer Park on the big stage.
"While the venue there was awesome, it was sometimes hard to hear with the traffic, and setting up and tearing down the set daily was cumbersome," said Production Manager Kim Griffin.
The Prineville Music Theater crew made a connection with Anita Hoffman and the High School Drama Department.
"What a great group of people," added Griffin. "They build our sets, make costumes and props, do the sound and lights, mic the performers and help with costume and set changes—and anything else that we need."
Many of the youth who have participated in theater camp transition smoothly to the drama department when they enter high school.
Kyler Michel, now 15 years old, started with the group eight years ago, and they were performing 100 Dalmatians at the time.
"At first, I was just going to be a helper, and kind of help with set building. Then I got into the acting part, that's what I did for eight years," said Michel.
"Our old director, Michelle — she was so amazing and I really miss her, but I love the new energies that Colleen has had. I love the ways it has changed, it's kind of uplifting to see how it's grown. Beginning memories, middle memories and now."
Michel is now the sound technician, and he has been surprised to learn that he is a good leader. His friends see him as a great role model, and he has played a variety of roles.
Michel also discovered that he has music talent.
"In the beginning of middle school, I started taking lessons for music, and it has just kind of grown from there. It's good to have something you know will always be there — kind of constant. And seeing the people you haven't seen all year."
Romi Westenfeld and Brynn Hill have been best friends since pre-school. They are also 15 years old, and the two started in the theater camp when they were approximately five years old. Westenfeld has a lot of good memories of their times on and off stage.
"We were doing a dress rehearsal, and we were all mic'd and in full costume. Brynn was running around backstage — her mic wasn't turned off, and she was yelling, 'I can't find my pants."'
Penny Hill is the assistant director. Prior to that role, she was stage manager. She began as a parent helper, and she gravitated to the program — being in drama also in high school.
"I wanted my kids to have that experience."
Penny Hill was involved in the program when Moore was the director. She has been pleasantly surprised as she has watched her own children blossom and demonstrate hidden talents.
"I was able to watch Brynn, and when I first heard her sing her solo, I was amazed — and I knew this was the right thing. It's a great thing to see your kids grow because of a great program."
When Holbrook became director, she recruited Penny to be her assistant director.
"My favorite memory was the Fiona song (Aladdin performance). There was three of them singing in it and it was a beautiful song. When they sang it, I was surprised no one in the audience had a dry eye," recalled Penny.
Brynn Hill recalled one of the first performances she was in at the age of eight. She was in a play about the "Ugly Duckling." Hill was singing a solo song, and the CD that was being played had a glitch. It started over several times.
"Me, being the scared little girl I was, I didn't have my music, I didn't know what to do," she recalled. "All the pressure was on me."
She ran to the backstage, and the microphone had feedback. She eventually went back out — makeup running down her face from crying. She belted out the song, and had a standing ovation.
"It's a great feeling to have your group that are always there for you if you need anything, because you've just grown up with them in this great environment. It's good to see that even if you age out, it's kind of a sad feeling, but there is always that reassurance of knowing you can come back as staff or as a helper and watch these other little kids grow into what you once were," explained Hill.
Disney Alice in Wonderland Jr.
To be held in the Eugene Southwell CCHS Auditorium
Performances: Friday, July 19 at 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 20 at 2:00 p.m.
Cost is $2.00 for ages 11 and older
Prineville Music Theater Camp Staff
Executive Director—Barbara Punch
Assistant Director—Penny Hill
Production Manager—Kim Griffin
Stage manager—Casey Tunison
Sound Technician—Kyler Michel
Costume Assistant—Hannah Jones
Volunteers—Casey Sumerlin and Katie Jones
Board of Directors
Door Knob—Brynn Hill
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