Kids spend summer on stage

Dina Gerdeman

Twelve-year-old Emily Mazza wants to be a star. Emily, who lives in Quincy, said watching countless episodes of “American Idol” on TV fueled her passion for performing, and now she is spending two weeks this summer honing her singing and dancing skills at Camp Broadway in Quincy.

“I watched ‘American Idol’ every night with my family,” Emily said during a break in camp rehearsals. “Hearing people’s stories and knowing they’re from small towns and knowing this was something they really wanted; it made me feel like that’s what I want, too.”

Emily certainly isn’t the only youngster looking for some time in the spotlight. Shows like “American Idol” and movies like Disney’s “Camp Rock” and “High School Musical” seem to have ignited in children a renewed interest in performing – and many are spending their summers on stage in camps and workshops that allow them to sing, dance and act.

This summer The Company Theatre in Norwell is offering more than 60 workshops – most of them based on acting, singing and dancing – for 200 students, including an Idol-like class where kids sing and compete for fun.

South Shore Conservatory, which has campuses in Hingham and Duxbury, is hosting a summer vocal institute and summer theater workshop for children. The Boys and Girls Club of Marshfield is hosting Camp Chuckles for budding comedians. Camp Broadway in Quincy is allowing kids to learn song and dance from professionals who have performed on Broadway. Power Chord Academy at Stonehill College in Easton is inviting musicians to rehearse and record music. The American Idol Camp in California is offering kids a chance to sing and dance.

“I hear kids say, ‘I watch Hannah Montana and I want to be her,”' said Dean Cudworth, director and producer of American Idol Camp. “Some of these kids really want to make it.”

Camp instructors – most of whom are singers, dancers, musicians, choreographers and producers themselves – don’t want to discourage kids from pursuing their dreams, but many also give kids a get-real talk about the business.

“We’re very blunt with them,” Cudworth said. “We tell them they’ve picked one of the hardest careers ever. Some kids come and think they have it, but then they realize how much work is involved and they decide to (perform) as a hobby instead.”

Yet kids who yearn to perform also know there is always a chance they can make it big. This year The Company Theatre has expanded its workshop offerings in response to plans by Plymouth Rock Studio officials to build movie and television production studios in Plymouth. It is now hosting classes that teach children how to audition for film parts, as well as other workshops that focus on learning cinematography and video production.

“We’d like to see our people used in films,” said Zoe Bradford, co-founder and co-artistic director at The Company Theatre, who has recommended young actors for parts in films made in the Boston area. “Opportunities like that won’t happen every day for kids. It’s very difficult, and we tell people to be realistic, to do it because they love it, not because they think they’re going to be famous. But kids have dreams.”

Other children are in it just for fun. Many of the kids who gravitate toward song-and-dance camps have little interest in spending their summers at a soccer camp, said Chrissy Kelleher, a local comedian and teacher who will lead Camp Chuckles, a weeklong workshop focused on writing jokes and working on improvisational comedy.

“These camps are catering to a totally different kind of kid,” she said. “Camps like this give kids a chance to have fun and meet like-minded people.”

Michael Ryan, 17, of Braintree, who is attending Camp Broadway, said there’s nowhere he’d rather be.

“This is my passion,” Ryan said. “It’s a feeling that’s indescribable when you’re on stage and the spotlight is on your face.”

Many of the camps work on intensively training the kids to sing and dance, play instruments, or act. Instructors say many kids come in with raw talent but most need help fine-tuning their skills.

“A lot of these kids are used to playing on their own in their bedroom, and they don’t have any coaching or guidance,” said Dave Wood, admissions director for Power Chord Academy. “The kids work hard here. We drive home the importance of discipline.”

Maurice Murphy, an instructor for Camp Broadway, said the experience gives students a taste of what it’s like to prepare for a big show.

“We expect of them the same level that professional choreographers expect of us,” Murphy said. “We expect them to have it clean.”

At many of the camps, the training is capped by a live production. For example, Camp Broadway in Quincy will host its musical production 7:30 p.m. July 18 at North Quincy High School.

At the end of Power Chord Academy’s sessions, musicians leave with a CD of a song they wrote and performed, plus a music video of the song.

Courtney Williams, 16, who lives in Concord, N.H., attended Power Chord Academy at Stonehill College last summer, and has signed up to return this year.

“It was a fabulous experience,” she said.

Her mother, Kim Williams, said she was pleased her daughter could spend a chunk of two summers doing what she loved best.

“She just blossomed there and loved it,” Williams said. “Even if she never plays music professionally, she will always have it to give her joy and pleasure.”

Dina Gerdeman may be reached at