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The Prineville Music Theater Camp will perform Roald Dahl's 'Willy Wonka Jr.' on July 16 and 17, and this marks its 12th year

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Director for the Prineville Music Theater Camp, Colleen Holbrook directs the group as they stage a scene on the boat as Willy Wonka, played by Eric Michel, becomes animated as he offers his commentary.

Now in the 12th season of bringing smiles to local audiences, the Prineville Music Theater Camp will perform Roald Dahl's "Willy Wonka Jr." on July 16 and 17.

The performance will be in the Crook County High School Auditorium on Friday, July 16 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 17 at 2 p.m. The cost is $2 for ages 11 years and older.

Barbara Punch and Michelle Moore created Prineville Music Theater Camp, and the first performances began in the summer of 2010. Moore was a music teacher and had subbed in the Crook County School District when the music programs were cut from the elementary schools. At the same time, Our Savior's Lutheran Church had funds available for a kids' program.

"Wanting to keep Michelle here, they were able to put that money towards music and theater, one of Michelle's many talents, and Prineville Music Theater Camp was born," explained production manager for the camp, Kim Griffin. "It was a gift to the community. After not being able to find permanent work with budget cuts etc., Michelle moved back to New Mexico and would come up here yearly for her 'working vacation' as she called it. She was the director until her death in 2017."

Colleen Holbrook has since taken over that position. She has now been director for five years. When she talks about the camp, her passion is evident in working with the youth. She talked excitedly about one of her first-year kids, whom she chose for a leading part.

"There are kids who occasionally shine through like that, and you want to give them every opportunity," Holbrook said.

She went on to emphasize that there are no small parts, and they need all of them for the complete picture. She strives to find a way to have the littles also be part of the process in some way.

"We just encompass everybody that we get here," she concluded.

"It has grown so much from the very beginning," Griffin said of the evolution of the Children's Music Theater. "Penny, as she was a parent of the kids, and she helped backstage there at the Lutheran Church. From that to backstage now that we are at the high school auditorium, it has gone over and beyond, I believe, the dream that Michelle had when we originally started this program."

She emphasized that they could not make it possible without the grants and donations from those who support the camp. They also have a board of directors and sponsors, which include Our Savior's Lutheran Church, Crook County Parks and Recreation, Shelk Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, The Carolyn Raab Fund of OCF, Robert W. Chandler Fund of OCF, K-12 Summer Learning of OCF, Kiwanis, and Friends of the PMTC.

Penny Hill, assistant director for the group, has been involved with the group from its inception in 2010. She had two children involved and was also involved as a parent in the beginning.

"We started off in the Lutheran Church," Hill said of the beginnings. "We were lucky to get 10 to 15 kids back in the day. We have up to 40 kids."

She added that the camp provides valuable skills and a venue for the youth to be creative, while learning new things.

"Some of the new kids have never been in acting. They do it at home but not in a big group setting or a public setting."

She added that they also memorize lines, learn cooperation, listen and follow directions.

"All the good things that kids need to learn these days. I choose to remind them that it's for the kids—it's not about us—it's about them. We are here to just provide the direction that we want to give them."

The performances on July 16 and 17 will include a cast of more than 40 youth. Because it is a musical, all of the participants also sing, whether as part of a solo or as a group.

Daniel Harris offers a valuable dimension to the group as their artist in residence. He draws sets and provides guidance to his peers on costumes. Holbrook emphasized that she wants all students to feel included, and she strives to include their talent in the production.

James Williams is in his first year with the group, and he landed the role of Charlie Bucket, a leading role in the upcoming performance. His favorite part of being in the theater group is the singing parts, but he also likes spending the time meeting new friends and being around some of his current friends in the group.

"They said I have a really good singing voice," he said of his role as Charlie Bucket.

Capri Wrolson, an upcoming fifth grader, is playing Grandma Josephine. She is also playing one of the Oompa Loompas. She commented that she likes meeting new people at the camp and seeing old friends as well. This is her third year being in the music theater.

"I enjoy meeting new people, and I have become friends with two new people and meeting old friends that were here last year and the year before and saying hi—I haven't seen them for a year and a half," Capri said.

Kyler Michel has been with the Theater for nine years. He is entering his senior year in the fall, and the first year, the group performed "101 Dalmatians." He has become an alumni helper and does the technology for the group.

"How we have grown every year is crazy," he said enthusiastically. "We used to be super small, and it was more of a modest kind of thing, and we would go to the park and perform, and now it's much bigger with more people and more performances."

Kyler enjoys working with everyone in the theater, but especially the youth.

"They are more creative than a lot of adults I have met, so that is a breath of fresh air. They are not scared to try new things, and they are not scared to sing out, and it's really an inspiration."

Kyler's brother, Eric Michel, is playing the part of Willie Wonka. This is his seventh time being part of the theater.

"I just like being silly and fun. I just really enjoy it, and I think it's a lot of fun to do," he said of his motivation for coming back each year.

Abi Gattey, coming up on her seventh-grade year, is playing Mike Teavee in the play. This is her second year.

"I love performing and doing dance and singing—I just love it all. And meeting new people," she said.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic brought some challenges, since the group could not meet in person. Director Holbrook provided weekly sing-a-longs via Zoom for the campers and their families. Abi, who was a fifth-grade student at the time, wrote and provided the music for her friends, family and fellow campers to perform via Zoom with the help of Holbrook. The Zoom performance was from the point of view of one of the female main characters from "Hamilton."

"It was very well done and so much fun to watch," exclaimed Griffin. "The talent these youngsters have is incredible."

Griffin added that the camp had to be very flexible in dealing with what COVID has had to offer this year.

"Rehearsing in the park and at the fairgrounds under the big white tent to help with social distancing was great until the heat wave," Griffin went on to say. "The school district graciously has allowed the camp to practice in the commons where it is so much cooler. The continued community support of this opportunity to bring the theater arts to our children is overwhelming."

The camp started in the basement of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Prineville. The first few years' performances were held in the church sanctuary. When the productions outgrew that space, Griffin said they moved it 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," she added. "The productions now are held at the high school auditorium, and we have been working more and more with Anita Hoffman and the high school drama department. What a great group of people. They help 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. This is a huge change from the beginning when it was held in the church. Some of our camp kids now transition on to the drama department when they arrive in high school as they feel comfortable having experienced the stage and crew while in camp."

Punch continues as the executive director, and the camp now has a board of directors from different facets of the community. They meet regularly during the year, and one of their main contributions besides giving great ideas is to help fund raise to keep the camp going. Production costs, copyrights, the scripts and rights are costly. The camp also employs high school students and have past cast members as volunteers.

The camp always begins the middle of the last week of June and runs through the third week of July. Youth ages 7 to 15 are eligible and can be registered with Crook County Parks and Recreation District in the spring.

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