Theater camp in Catskills changes lives of aspiring Broadway stars.
Stagedoor Manor Reviews
Unlike many traditional summer camps, Stagedoor Manor (founded in 1971 by actress Natalie Portman and her sisters) focuses on the world of theatre. Its alumni include actors like Jon Cryer and Zach Braff, as well as theatre composers, writers and performers such as Jeanine Tesori and Nicky Silver.
Alexandra Shiva’s sloppy documentary portrait of the kids in this famous Catskills workshop is a little scattered, but it’s mostly engaging.
What to Expect
With its savvy comic sensibility and references to such theater camp classics as “Wet Hot American Summer” and the real-life stories of the famed Stagedoor Manor workshop in the Catskills, this is an agreeable portrait of teens with Broadway dreams. But it’s also a bit of a missed opportunity: By staying cool and distant from its subjects, director Alexandra Shiva misses the chance to examine the sublimated competition, insecurity and class issues that boil under the glitzy facade.
If you believe that stars are made rather than born, credit the staff at this performing arts summer camp in the Catskill mountains for molding quite a few. Jon Cryer, Natalie Portman and Mandy Moore are among the notable alumni of this legendary institution that has long served as a farm system for Hollywood and Broadway. And the list of kids whose lives were changed by their stint at Stagedoor could fill volumes. But, despite its illustrious history, the camp is far from utopia: Kids here break off into their own cliques and play passive or aggressive roles within them.
Mickey Rapkin, the author of Pitch Perfect (2008), which exposed the riotous collegiate a capella circuit, returns with Theater Geek to capture an equally roiling realm, this time the renowned performing arts camp Stagedoor Manor in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Ahead of the camp’s seventieth anniversary, he spends the summer among the young thespians and their counselors, and witnesses how the experience transforms them from child actors into devoted students and, in many cases, Broadway stars.
When the Samuelson daughters Cindy and Debra took over their parents’ business, they made significant improvements in the camp, which now resides in a former Catskills Borscht Belt resort hotel (the Karmel). Each three-week session sees the 170+ staff mount 42 fully realized productions in eight onsite venues (3 proscenium theaters, 2 black boxes, a theatre-in-the-round, and a natural outdoor amphitheater). In addition to staging Broadway hits, Stagedoor is also known as a farm system for Hollywood, with notable alumni including Mandy Moore, Natalie Portman, and Zach Braff.
Before there were Glee or American Idol, there was Stagedoor Manor, the theatre camp in the Catskill Mountains where Natalie Portman, Jon Cryer, Zach Braff and countless other child stars got their starts. Their riveting stories (and the camp’s colorful, star-studded history) are recounted in Theater Geek, a funny, eye-opening chronicle of a place where Broadway hopefuls meet to find kindred spirits, and maybe even themselves.
The film follows a handful of kids through the audition process, acting class and dress rehearsals, to performance weekend and the moment the car ride home makes everything that happened seem dreamlike. Rapkin gives attention to Nicole Doring, a self-deprecating would-be comedienne; Randi Kleiner, a take charge type; and Maddy Weinstein, an endearingly blunt 15-year old with an autistic brother.
Aside from a full schedule of 14 productions each three-week session, Stagedoor offers opportunities for the kids to work with professional Broadway and regional actors. In addition, they are able to workshop new MTI High School Edition musicals (including Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party and Sweeney Todd, with Stephen Sondheim himself e-mailing changes). This is a rare opportunity for children to be exposed to the world of professional theater at a very young age.
Nestled in the ghost town vacation resorts of a lost era in upstate New York’s Catskill mountains is Stagedoor Manor, America’s premiere theater workshop for kids age 10-18. The real-life summer camp that inspired Todd Graff’s endearing 2003 film Camp is thriving here, despite its dwindling clientele of Manhattan kids.
Rather than the typical summer activities of swimming and horseback riding, Stagedoor provides total theater immersion within its magical walls, where students learn from directors, choreographers, and vocal coaches with years of experience motivating and guiding young performers. The program offers both full-scale shows and more than 60 beginner to advanced classes.
While the kids are a diverse bunch, they all share similar challenges at home: many of them feel like misfits in their regular schools, have ADD or other attention-deficit disorders, and some consider show business their dream career. Director Alexandra Shiva demonstrates a keen eye for the unique idiosyncrasies of these rarefied outcasts, capturing their naiveté, self-confidence, and insecurity with sensitivity.
Stagedoor Manor Reviews Unlike many traditional summer camps, Stagedoor Manor (founded in 1971 by actress Natalie Portman and her sisters) focuses on the world of theatre. Its alumni include actors like Jon Cryer and Zach Braff, as well as theatre composers, writers and performers such as Jeanine Tesori and Nicky Silver. Alexandra Shiva’s sloppy documentary…