I recently had the opportunity to visit Live Oak’s summer camp and speak with some of their budding young actors and actresses as well as Camp Director Randi Olsen. After seeing several of their performances this past year, it was a treat to be able to witness how the theatre company molds their talent and prepares them for the upcoming shows.
Elijah Torres, who just turned 12, has been with Live Oak for a number of years and has been in at least 7 Live Oak performances. His whole family is involved with the theatre group. His older sister Stephania is a performer, his father works on the lighting during shows and his mother is a “kid wrangler.” Kid wranglers do as the name implies- wrangles up the child performers and keeps them on task.
Torres says that he has enjoyed this year’s camp especially since there are more kids in attendance. He really enjoys the warm-up portion of camp and he’s learned something interesting from “Mr. Vince” this year.
“Mr. Vince, he taught us that you can do a monologue and act (out) two people.” He also has enjoyed the games and learning new dance moves.
Camper Makayah Rees is going into 8th grade. She performed in Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan, but it’s her first time at camp. She says that the theatre group is like a “second family” to her.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to sing right in music class, singing on stage. I learned more about harmony and how to do a monologue well.”
“I really look forward to the stage combat class.”
She says that being in middle school can get very stressful. On rehearsal days, she says she can leave everything else behind and enjoy her friends. They work really hard, but it’s relaxing to concentrate on the play instead of school.
Grace Capoocia, first time camper, is 11 and is going into 6th grade. “I’ve really enjoyed Mr. Vince’s acting class and he’s teaching us how we should really express our feelings.” She just auditioned for Annie and is looking forward to getting one of the parts.
Grace described the most fun she’s had in camp. The first day in Mr. Kevan’s class they learned how to be “wolves transforming into human actions.” They also pretended to be flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz.
Ely Walters who will be attending Nature Coast High School as a 9th grader enjoys singing and acting. He came to camp at Live Oak for the first time to learn more about acting and he said on Thursday that he’s learned a lot of good things so far. He has mostly enjoyed the camaraderie of meeting new people, making new friends and helping his fellow actors and actresses.
Kaiden Rossiter, also a first time Live Oak camper, is going into 11th grade. He sings in the choir at church and plays a variety of instruments. Rossiter says he has benefitted from the fundamental music classes, makeup and stage lighting instruction as well as tips on how to audition.
“The tips on what not to do (during an audition) were the most helpful for me.”
He also admitted that singing in character is more difficult than he thought it would be.
Lenia Richards, who is going into 11th grade, is a veteran Live Oak actress. She played Wendy in Peter Pan with her real brothers playing John and Michael, her father as Capt. Hook and her sister as Tinkerbell. “My whole family loves acting,” she said.
This summer she has been challenged by having to act out Shakespeare scripts. She especially enjoyed playing the witch in MacBeth.
Lenia advises that one needs to be prepared to sing the entire song during an audition, something that may have slipped her mind. With her father teaching the movement class, she’s learned about the best ways to move on stage whether it’s fighting or maneuvering around people in an interesting way.
On Wednesday the more experienced campers auditioned in front of the newer campers in order to give them an idea of how to audition. “It was good experience getting to help them. I remember my first audition and it was terrifying. Even my second one was terrifying,” said Lenia. She explained that auditions can still be terrifying for her, but they are also fun. “I enjoy it. I know that they [less experienced campers] want to see how it’s done so they’re not as nervous to get up there [and audition].”
Lenia says that for her, praying helps her to not be so nervous. “The best thing to do is I pray before every show. A lot of times we pray as a group and it actually really does help a lot, asking God to help me not be nervous.”
Lenia says that acting is one of her passions since from a young age her father has guided her.
“It’s fun having a role model in the family to guide you.”
She says that she was shy for a long time and acting has helped her to “break out of her shell.”
Confidence to speak or perform in front of an audience is something that Live Oak artistic director, Randi Olsen, explains is one of the most beneficial aspects of training with Live Oak. “We’re really teaching the kids confidence and poise and life-skills that they are going to need when they go for a job interview or give a speech in class.” She also emphasized how gratifying it is to see a shy child gain the confidence and poise to speak in front of a large audience.
The first Live Oak camp was held in 2010, the summer following the first official Live Oak season. “One of the things that Vince and I were very intentional about is that we wanted to make sure that we trained our actors that would be part of our productions. We felt like if we took this week of camp and trained our performers, we could do a lot more rehearsing and a lot more developing of the characters once we got into rehearsals for the shows. And it’s worked beautifully. ” Vince Vanni is one Live Oak’s founding members.
Some of the skills they teach are acting technique, vocal technique and dance technique.
“They are not learning for the show, they’re learning the skills so that when it’s time to rehearse, they already have the skills in place,” said Randi.
In essence, Randi explained, “We teach the skills at camp and apply the skills in the production.”
The summer camp also functions as their fundraiser for the year.
“We never turn a child away for inability to pay, but we have a suggested donation of up to $150 per child. Most of that money goes toward production costs for the year,” Randi explained. They also have sponsors from the community that have helped them tremendously.
Echoing first time camper Makayah Rees’ comments, Randi said, “We really are like one big family and when we come to camp, the first day of camp is like a family reunion. We only do three shows a year and there is some down time between those shows. We all miss each other.”
She continued, “We have some really deep rooted relationships in our group whether it’s mentor to student or student to student.”
And how does everything come together? Randi explained that the individual talents of the team members often emerge to solve various problems in set design, costumes, or a complicated scene that just isn’t working. She also said, “There’s never one person responsible for all the creativity. Everyone brings their own unique perspective.”
God is also very much involved with completing the puzzle.
While Lenia prays for God to give her confidence to perform well before a scene, Randi explains,
“I pray before every audition that God will bring us the right people for the right characters and he’s never let me down. I’m just so thrilled with how God took this dream that I had- or that he put in my head, I imagine, and just kind of made it happen. I’m in awe, every production.”