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Summer Camp Helps Every Kid Be a 'Rising Star'

A performance is added to accommodate a sellout crowd for "Annie."

Callie Gaytan takes center stage whether the curtain is up or not. Rising Star Musical Theatre Troupe Summer Camp, mentioned in this a couple of weeks ago, staged its first production of the summer season last weekend at J.E.T. Studios in North Hollywood. Callie plays the lead in Annie but she stars in her own life off stage too.

As you’ll see in the video, she’s not shy about appearing on camera or directing the photographer (me).

After only three weeks of rehearsals, the cast of this show knocked me out with a much-better-than-amateur performance. I’m not the only one who was impressed. Producers had to add a matinee to seat ticket buyers who sold out the two evening performances.

Ranging in age from 7 to 15, these kids were not kidding around. While all the thespians I interviewed cited hanging with friends as one of the pleasures of camp, many of them, with their parents’ blessing, harbor real life theatrical aspirations.

Sam Cohen, a young film and TV talent, likes coming to Rising Star because he gets to sing and dance.

“’Cause I don’t really get allowed to do that,” Sam concedes. “I just act,” he says, while explaining that his mom, dad and grandpa are all musicians or singers.

Beth Meurer along with her husband Rob, a professional composer, started Rising Star as a year round theater program in a room at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City five years ago. The couple were long-time members of the church and the congregation agreed that the theater troupe was a community service.

Beth reveals that she was motivated to start her own academy, where the curriculum is based on “compassionate communication,” by the harsh treatment her daughter and her classmates were subjected to at another acting school.

“It’s a way of communicating without being in any way threatening or punitive. It’s just a way of working with the kids to help them understand how to be more cooperative,” she explains. Beth admits the technique can be challenging when conflicts arise, but she takes pride in administering it successfully. And the parents notice it too as they told me in the video.

Callie’s mom Cindy Gaytan quotes Beth telling her, “People underestimate kids and what they can do. You just give them the parts and they just go with it.” Cindy adds, “There’s a lot of kids out there with a lot of potential.”

Rehearsal for the summer’s second production, Guys and Dolls, started on Monday. Sam Cohen is already cast as “Nathan Detroit.”


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