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Lee Coleé-Atnip

Children in Theatre: Not What many Expect
by Lee Coleé-Atnip

March 2004

Having worked with kids for 20 years in the music and performing arts business I am still astounded at what they are capable of, even at the tender ages of eight, nine and ten years old. If you let them know that you think something is possible and definitely expected of them, they deliver in spades.

When I moved to Wimberley from Dallas I immediately noticed that the community did not have much to offer the kids in the performing arts. There was a summer Shakespeare program for the teenagers but nothing for the youngsters. I asked around to understand this strange situation. The general attitude was that kids were not worth putting the time and energy into because they were "children" who couldn't understand, couldn't behave or just couldn't.

As an experiment and a challenge, I made plans and publicized a music theatre camp for kids that was two weeks long (similar to professional summer stock) at the end of which the kids would produce and perform the musical ANNIE. Thirty-one kids auditioned and 26 were accepted. From 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. for two weeks they worked as hard or harder than any adult professional. Not only that, they were working in an outdoor venue in June. By the third day, they had learned the whole show; by the end of the first week we were doing run-throughs; and by the weekend we were bringing in the tech personnel and moving into the theatre. The second week was dress rehearsals and the kids finally began to get restless. "Let's get this show on the road!" was the common feeling. They were waiting on the adults to catch up with them - with costumes, final props, etc.

Some of Lee Coleé-Atnip's current talented young performers.
Word was getting back to me that the town was doubting that the show would be any good. I was a stranger in town, but they felt at least the kids had something to do for two weeks. The kids came home very tired and the moms and dads were grateful that when the kids came home they were so pooped that they went straight to bed!

Finally, opening night arrived, the first of three performances. As I suspected, we had a full house of parents and relatives and other curious folks. There are not a lot of entertainment options in Wimberley, so something new brings people out due to simple curiosity. The kids were spectacular. They made the front page of the local paper. The following two summers the LIONS CLUB, and THE WIMBERLEY PLAYERS got behind the program and GUYS AND DOLLS and GREASE were Sold Out successes with held-over performances increasing the kids' performances to eight each year.

This summer we will be doing FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and early response is amazing. I have adjusted the work schedule somewhat to a three-week camp - not because the kids couldn't handle the stress, but because I couldn't! I am proud of these kids who might never have discovered a passion for the arts if they couldn't do something in their own backyard. Not only did these kids produce a show, it had the quality of a professional production. At all three of the camps I watched the kids take control of the show and own it. I saw them encourage and rely on each other, taking pride in themselves and their newly discovered talents. They have become knowledgeable patrons of the arts.

On to more current events, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is coming to Wimberley, Texas. The Hill Country is a huge supporter of the performing arts and the community of Wimberley is especially so. The Wimberley Players, an extremely successful community theatre organization is once again joining forces with me to produce and present the Fourth Annual Music Theatre Camp for Kids, June 1-20, 2004.

This season 30 kids age 8-16 will be selected by audition to work in a professional "summer stock" environment as they prepare for six performances "Fiddler on the Roof." Seventy-plus hours will be spent in class work and rehearsal studying acting, theatre dance, voice and technical theatre skills. Host families will invite out-of-town participants into their homes during camp and provide social and tourist opportunities. The Players will also provide comp tickets and other VIP perks.

THE WIMBERLEY PLAYERS mark their 25th Anniversary this season. Sold out houses and extended runs have been the norm for the past two years. I opened my voice studio and talent agency in Wimberley four years ago and very quickly joined forces with the Players. Our most recent production, THE ODD COUPLE (female version) was totally sold out.

The kids have taught me to treat them as paid adults and to treat the adults as small children. I have watched this community steadily grow in its support for the children's camp and for live theatre in general. Isn't it amazing that it takes a child to teach us some of the most profound lessons?

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Lee Coleé-Atnip is a talent agent, voice instructor and is the Musical Theatre Director for The Wimberley Players, a very successful community theatre in the Hill Country. Her first children's camp in 2000 presented "Annie," followed by "Guys and Dolls," and last year's "Grease." The kids rehearse and study with theatre professionals and perform at The Greenhouse Theatre, home of the Wimberley Players, although a new theatre has just been acquired to accommodate the increased patronage and bigger shows. As a talent agent, Lee represents all kinds of live entertainment packages for corporate and theatrical events but coaching and promoting young performers has always given her special satisfaction. The camps have produced several performers under 14 who now have professional credits. Jesse Chisholm (12) is a first rate singer and master of the blue grass fiddle. He fronts "The Wolf Pack" a boys' young instrumental ensemble. Calen Cabler (13) is now a professional model as well as a talented and charasmatic singer/actress. Sydni Kipp (12) is also a stellar vocalist. These youngsters and many others have studied with Lee and participated in the camps for many years and have become young celebrities and icons in Wimberley and the Hill Country. This year Lee would like to especially encourage young boys to explore the performing arts. Fiddler on the Roof has may roles suited for athletes, gymnasts, comics as well as singers, dancers and actors. For more information on the camp, auditions and future productions you may e mail Lee Colee Studios/Talent Agency at lee@atnip.net.
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