Movie Stars and Broadway Veterans Share Theater Camp Memories

This post was originally published on NY Times - Theater

Written by: Alexis Soloski

In honor of “Theater Camp,” a new movie about a fictional sleepaway site, we asked Broadway veterans and movie stars for their favorite camp memories.

Molly Gordon and Ben Platt met as children at the Adderley School, a theater studio in Los Angeles that runs after-school programs and summer day camps. There are photos and home videos of them starring opposite each other in some very grown-up shows like “Chicago” and “Damn Yankees.” Two decades later — with the help of the actor-writer Noah Galvin, Platt’s fiancé, and the writer-director Nick Lieberman — they have spun those memories of wonky vibrato, stumbling choreography and an ardent sense of belonging into the feature comedy “Theater Camp,” opening Friday.

Set at the financially rickety establishment of the title, the film bounces among campers and counselors in upstate New York as they work on an ambitious slate of productions: “Cats,” “Damn Yankees,” “The Crucible Jr.” and “Joan Still,” an original musical inspired by the camp’s comatose founder (Amy Sedaris). The movie began as a 2017 short, and after a yearslong struggle for financing (“We wanted to make a mostly improvised movie with children; a lot of people were not down for that,” Gordon said), it was shot last summer in 19 frantic days at an abandoned camp in Warwick, N.Y.

 

Full of in-jokes (campers barter for bags of Throat Coat tea like they are Schedule I drugs), the movie is also a hymn to all of the outcasts and square pegs who finally find acceptance in a kick line. Theater camp is, as a closing ballad explains, “where every kid picked last in gym finally makes the team.” Over the years, theater camps around the country have yielded a rich crop of Broadway stars, composers and directors. The movie’s creators and a handful of Broadway veterans who credit camp with shaping their careers spoke with me about community, stage kisses and the transformative effects of “Free to Be You and Me.” These are edited excerpts from the conversations.

Gordon and Platt in the movie. “I was just a crazy wild child and so excited to be in that environment,” Gordon said about her childhood camp experience. (Searchlight Pictures)

From left, Andréa Burns, Karen Olivo, Janet Dacal and Mandy Gonzalez, seated, in “In the Heights” on Broadway. Burns grew up going to the French Woods theater camp.Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

 

Rachel Chavkin winning the Tony for best direction for “Hadestown.” She went to Stagedoor Manor as a child.Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

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