PEMBROKE — During the lunch hour at the Givens Performing Arts Center’s youth theater camp, some kids pause their meal of spaghetti and bread to read over their lines. Twenty-two-year-old Taylor Chew sits on the stage looking out at the crowd.
This is what she means when she says “self-initiative.”
As part of her work as a touring director and actor for the Missoula Children’s Theatre, Chew works with children from all over the nation. She rattles off the list of towns she has seen during the past month like an auctioneer, and adds that each place has its own flavor.
Pembroke, she says, is distinct for its dedication.
The children snacking in the background are participating in the fourth annual summer camp with the Missoula Children’s Theatre at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Givens Performing Arts Center. The camp, called GCamp, is offered annually at the center, and is open to youths ages 7 to 18, including some with disabilities. Lunchtime is a break time from rehearsal for their performance of the German fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel.”
David Thaggard, assistant director at the center, says the children take part in workshops that relate to the play during their down-time between rehearsals.
“We’ve had guest speakers from the Lumber River State Park come in and talk about animals in the wild,” Thaggard said. “They taught about how to survive on a camping trip. We also are having a dental hygienist come in and talk about the effects of too much candy.”
“Hansel and Gretel,” which was originally recorded by the Brothers Grimm, tells the story of two children who get lost in the woods — the bread crumbs they have left behind to signal the way back home have all been eaten by birds. When they come to a witch’s house made of candy and confectionery, temptation leads them inside.
Painted bird houses along with bird puppets are lined up, drying on the stage where Chew sits talking. She says the kids have a jam-packed week of learning the arts.
The week-long camp started on July 30 and culminated with a performance of “Hansel and Gretel” on Friday. The costumes and the set were all provided by the Missoula Children’s Theatre, a traveling group that got its start 37 years ago in Missoula, Mont., after producing a successful children’s production of “Snow White.” When the group was asked to bring the show to other parts of Montana, it was unable to transport the cast, so instead the set and the costumes were transported — and auditions were scheduled.
According to a statement, the mission of the traveling production is to change the popular view that the arts are a luxury. The theatre describes what it calls a child’s “… impatience to put away the things of the child and emulate adult role models — for better or for worse. The theatre group strives to use participation in the performing arts as “a vehicle to develop … life skills — ” among them, self-esteem.
“You get to see the kids and their realization that in just five days they put this whole thing together,” Chew said. “Being able to see the kids and their excitement back stage, and to see their faces knowing they were successful, is really rewarding.”
Chew thinks the program builds an appreciation for the arts at a young age, which she says can be vital.
Kari Brooks, a rising eighth-grader at Pembroke Middle School, puts down her forkful of spaghetti to explain why she has participated in the camp for four straight years.
“It’s fun,” she said. “Acting lets you be somebody else.”
Kari said she wants to study acting one day at New York University, and laments that productions are not put on at her middle school. On the topic of arts and education, Kari touches upon something Chew describes so well.
“Unfortunately, we see a lot right now in education reform that arts education is being taken away from schools,” Chew said. “So to be able to offer kids an outlet, allows them a platform that they wouldn’t necessarily get during the school year, it shows that there are opportunities outside of school.”
Back on stage, children are being instructed on which direction to look and how to properly show the excitement described in the script. When they finish, they plead with Chew to let them rehearse the scene one more time.
Although the play is fragmented during rehearsal, when a little girl’s face lights up upon being told she did a good job, it’s easy to see the big picture.
“The beauty about stage performance,” Chew said, “is that you don’t really get to understand or see how it comes together until it does.”