Categories CommunityFeaturedNews

Getting an Early Start on the (Servant) Stage

Servant Stage Artistic Director Wally Calderon provides stage direction to summer theater camp actors rehearsing for “Into The Woods Jr.” Photo by Art Petrosemolo

Kacy Hartman is a seventh grader at Elizabethtown Area Middle School, and has lots of acting credits to her name. She got her start at age 5 as an angel in a Christmas pageant, and has performed with the Susquehanna Stage ballet theater.

The Servant Stage summer theater camp was recommended to her by her vocal coach. She is ecstatic that she was chosen to play the part of Rapunzel in the camp production of “Into The Woods Jr.”

“The high notes I sing test my vocal ability,” she smiles.

Keep an eye out for Kacy, her singing, acting and dancing career is far from finished.

Summer Theater Camps

If you enjoy the upbeat theater productions of Servant Stage, you won’t be surprised that their dynamic summer camps are exposing more than 150 youngsters (ages 10 to 18) to the theater arts and the excitement of acting in a musical production and igniting, in some, the drive to be the company’s next generation of actors.

During the past decade, thousands of theatergoers (35,000 alone in 2018) have marveled at Servant Stage productions throughout Lancaster County. With more than 100 performances a year of up to seven shows in theaters and off-site venues — including schools and retirement communities — the critically acclaimed theater continues to grow and add to its repertoire. This fall, it will stage its largest production ever, the musical “Titanic,” with a cast of 60 and a full orchestra, at the Lancaster Bible College with a six-day, 10 performance, run expected to attract some 10,000.

As the theater grows, so are its programs for the community. Artistic Director Wally Calderon, who joined SS in 2014 after a career as a performer,choreographer, production manager, and directorat many theaters across the county, including

The Miracle Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., worked with SS founder Jonathan Bauer, creating its first summer camp two years ago. Joining several other area summer theater camps, the SS version promised participants not only an introduction and education in theater, but the ability to create a full blown musical production that is staged four times both at the LancasterCounty Christian School (Leola) camp site as well as in other local venues.

“It is pretty intensive,” Calderon says, “and each child is given a chance to step outside of his or her comfort zone and to truly explore their capabilities, if just for a week, or as part of the long performance road to a theater career.”

Despite being intensive, camp reviews are glowing and many participants are back for their second and, in some cases, their third year.

Elizabethtown’s Brennan Eshleman is in the 11th grade at Mount Calvary Christian School and has been interested in theater since age eight. He plays the Mystery Man in the Camp production. Not a trained dancer, he does dance in shows. He feels comfortable on the stage and wants to continue to perform.

“I am thrilled to be playing in a Christian theater company that cares deeply about its actors and audiences,” he says.

It’s his first Servant Stage Camp and he is having a blast.

Servant Stage has involved youngsters to young adults in its production since its first shows some seven years ago. Interest continues to grow with 200 local performers auditioning for the company. Servant Stage casts as many performers — ages eight to 80 — as possible in productions.

Servant Stage is the brainchild of Bauer and wife, Rebecca. Jonathan had worked as a performer at Sight & Sound Theatres and his new company soon gained recognition and high praise for its free (at will offering) performances across the county. The company’s mission is to serve the community with making musical theater accessible to all, especially those with financial or physical limitations. Servant Stage provides a creative outlet for artists in the community to develop and share their talents in these performances and have fun while doing it! By all accounts, SS is doing just that.

The company, in its start-up years, had no full-time employees, but a ton of enthusiastic volunteers. Calderon joined SS as fulltime artistic director in 2016 and produced “Yankee Doodle Dandy” that year. He had first worked with SS in 2014 directing “Music of America.”

“I had experience running theatre summer camps,” Calderon says, “and it was on my list of things to do when joining 

the company. Jonathan (Bauer) and the board of directors were supportive and we hosted our first 10-day camp producing ‘Godspell Jr.’ in 2016.”

The first camp attracted 37 students and led to two camps in 2017, producing ‘Honk, Jr.’ and ‘Bye, Bye Birdie Jr.,’ with the number of participants growing to nearly 100.

“Not only did we want to expose participants to the theatre arts,” says Calderon, “we wanted them to experience what it is like to actually audition, rehearse and perform a show in a short period of time.”

Producing a Show in a Week

Calderon says there were some supporters who did not think producing a show in a week was possible, but he never doubted it could be done, and it has been done. He explains: campers prepare a song and a short monologue to audition on the camp’s first day. By that afternoon, the 60 campers have their parts and are rehearsing.

By day four of the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. program (yes, Calderon does find time for lunch for all), the group, working with a team of camp assistants and theater professionals, is in a full runthrough and ready for a full afternoon performance — open to the public without charge — on day six at the camp site.

On the program’s final three days, campers are exposed to morning master classes, including an introduction to improvisation, stage combat, 

illusion and stage tech. During those afternoons, the (now veteran) actors take the production on the road to local venues to get a feel for performing away from the familiarity of their families and a camp stage.

“It’s unique, and we treat all the youngsters like professionals,” Calderon says. “It can be pretty intense, but our instructors are filled with grace and understanding and help channel youthful drive and enthusiasm into a professional performance in a very short time.”

Interest in Servant Stage camps has remained strong. Because the two planned 2018 camps filled up so quickly, Servant Stage added a third and will continue to grow in 2019 as needed.

The camps are the first of SS’s outreach programs. Calderon can see year-round programming in the future that would include vacation camps, voice and acting lessons, and stagecraft training.

Just as audiences were surprised and overwhelmed with the quality and variety of Servant Stage productions from their first show in 2011, parents and friends express wonder at the depth and professionalism of the SS’s theater camp shows.

“We never saw anything like this,” a parent commented in an on-line camp review.

And she’s right!

The free performance date for Servant StageCompany’s next summer theater camp production,“Godspell Jr.” is Aug. 4 at 2 p.m. at LancasterCounty Christian School, 2390 New Holland Pike,Lancaster. Reserve a spot

About the author