Piedmont Players offers camps for children

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — There’s been acting and singing and dancing galore down at the Meroney and Norvell theaters this summer.
And this week is no exception.
Piedmont Players Theatre in hosting more than a dozen summer camps including drama camps for special needs and elementary-aged children.
“We want to be able to share theater with everybody and this gives us a chance to do that,” Justin Dionne, Piedmont Players marketing director, said.
The special needs drama camp, designed for children with intellectual or physical disabilities, has about 11 students this week.
“They have dreams and desires just like everybody else, so they aren’t really any different,” instructor Jtan Whisenant said. “They come to shows at the Norvell and the Meroney, why not give them a chance to try it at their ability level.”
Dionne said the camp, now in its second year, was created because of demand from the community.
“The kids really love it and the parents enjoyed it as well,” he said. “Theater is a great way to have kind of an outlet.”
During the camp, students have been doing everything from creating their own props to designing masks to learning lyrics and chorography to “Lean on Me.”
“They are just as creative and expressive as anybody else,” Whisenant said. “To me, it’s all about giving them an experience that they might not necessarily have otherwise.”
Emily McCoy said her favorite things about attending the camp this week has been dancing.
The tall brunette was all smiles when practicing her moves during “Lean on Me.”
Tanner Grumbles said she enjoyed the company just as much as the activities.
“I’ve met a lot of new friends,” she said.
Whisenant has been working with exceptional children in the Rowan-Salisbury School System for nearly 28 years. She said the camp isn’t much different from her full-time job.
“Just like school, we adapt to meet their needs,” she said.
Whisenant said she enjoys working with the students because they are so appreciative and full of life.
“The thing about kids with disabilities is they just enjoy life in general,” she said.
More than 25 students are also participating in the elementary drama camp this week.
Instructor Gwen Matthews said the children are working on an alternative version of the musical “The Little Mermaid” to perform on the last day Friday.
Matthews said instead of having one Ariel, all of the girls get to play the role.
“It makes it a little more inclusive and not so selective,” she said.
During the camp, students aren’t just brushing up their singing and acting skills, they are also learning about stage presence, memorization and stage direction.
Matthews said many of the students who participate in the camps have either been in plays at the Norvell Theater or auditioned for one.
But she said anyone can benefit from the experience.
“I think theater for children transfers into the real world,” she said.
Matthews said students gain confidence and learn how to work as a team.
“At the end of the show everybody gets the applause,” she said.
And Matthews said the great thing about theater is that it’s just fun.
“You don’t have to do it forever, you can just do it now.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.