August 14, 2006
By DANIELA ALTIMARI, Courant Staff Writer
Like most summer theater programs, the eight-day camp sponsored by a consortium of Middlesex County schools and held at Hartford's Weaver High School teaches students the basics of stagecraft.
But this one has a few other lessons to offer, such as the benefits of diversity, the importance of tolerance and the fact that the world is a whole lot bigger than their hometown, said Jody Dumeer, the East Hampton Middle School teacher who oversees the program.
"All of a sudden, they're learning that East Hampton isn't the epicenter of the world," said Dumeer, a dark-haired bundle of energy with an irrepressible love of the theater.
Now in its eighth year, the program enrolls about 150 middle school students from Hartford, Middletown, East Hampton, Portland, Cromwell, Durham and Middlefield. It is funded by a $50,495 grant from the state.
The students have already formed some pretty strong bonds, said Joseph Oblon, 14, a student at Strong Middle School in Durham. "These are people you'll be talking to for the rest of your life," he predicted.
On the first day, the youngsters gathered at Camp Ingersoll in Portland for a series of trust-building exercises. They would spend the next five days rehearsing a play - this year, it's "The Phantom of the Opera."
On day seven, they will perform the show for parents and members of the public. And the final day features a field trip to Broadway, where they will watch a matinee performance of "The Phantom of the Opera."
For Chelsea Pantano, who is 13 and attends Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown, the program is one of the summer's high points. Is she nervous about the performance?
"Nah," she said during a break in the rehearsal schedule one day last week. She participated last year "and I was nervous then, but this time I feel a lot more relaxed."
"I'm nervous," admitted Precious Dennis, a 13-year-old from Hartford who attends Fox Middle School.
On this day, the youngsters were split into groups. Some were performing vocal exercises with a music teacher; others were practicing dance moves with a professional choreographer. Down the hall, a few students were sitting at computers, writing their thoughts on the play's themes, while another group was creating artwork that will be displayed on the day of the performance.
"We're enlarging their world and exposing them to the arts," Dumeer said.
To her, one of the most gratifying moments comes on the final day, when she accompanies the students and some of their parents to New York. For many, it's their first trip to Broadway and she watches their excitement unfold. "To see that desire ignite in them, that's why we do it."
The students enrolled in the program will present a free, hourlong production of "The Phantom of the Opera" on Tuesday at 12:20 p.m. at Weaver High School.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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