TIFT Summer Theatre Camp Counsellors Find Love of the Arts at Home In Simcoe County

It can be difficult to find something to do for your kids in the summer months, but TIFT’s Summer Theatre Camp is a fantastic option for anyone who wants their kids–whether interested in theatre or not–to have a fun and fulfilling experience making new friends and growing as little human beings. 

There are six weekly sessions beginning July 15, each with a different theme. Kids aged 6-14 spend the day playing games and engaging with one another in exercises designed to increase confidence, creativity and self-esteem, culminating in a camp production at the end of each week. 

We met with this season's counsellors to talk about their history in the arts, in summer camp, and what kids and their parents/guardians can expect this year. 

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me! I’d love to hear a bit about you all.

Alexis Wilson: I am a professional musical theatre artist and dancer living in Barrie! I graduated from St. Lawrence College with an advanced diploma in Musical Theatre Performance. In the midst of performing and training I am also a dance teacher choreographer! My hobbies include playing and writing music, reading and enjoying the outdoors. 

Jenna Durante: I’m a 20-year-old from Barrie who enjoys dance, yoga, and diving into books! Currently, I’m studying at McGill University, entering my third year pursuing a degree in Philosophy and Linguistics.

Mackenzie Herbst: I’m originally from Barrie but live in Brockville throughout most of the year and come home for summer break. I’m going into my third year of the St. Lawrence College / Queen’s University Music Theatre Performance Program. 

Wow! This is a stacked group of counsellors! Were you all interested in the performing arts growing up?

MH: I think I was always a pretty artsy kid; I really enjoyed art and drama in school and was lucky enough to have quite a few friends that did musical theatre. I remember watching their productions year after year and wishing that I was brave enough to do something like that. I finally worked up the courage to try it a bit later on, and while it was a bit scary for me at first I instantly fell in love with it and never looked back.

AW: I took my first dance class at 3 years old and was hooked from then on! When I was 10, I broke my foot and was unable to dance for the rest of the dance season. At that time I discovered a kids theatre program. That began my journey to love theatre and I've never given it up. I often say that injury was a blessing in disguise. 

JD: Yes, performing and the arts were a big part of my childhood. I grew up doing competitive dance in Barrie at All That’s Dance and More and participating in plays and musicals throughout elementary and high school. I have always had a passion for theatre and performing!

Do you have a favourite play or musical?

MH: I feel like my favourites change almost every day depending on how I’m feeling, and there’s just too many to choose from! I just saw Les Misérables in Toronto a few weeks ago so I have been listening to the soundtrack on repeat. That might be my current favourite.

AW: This is a very difficult question. Growing up it was Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music (I LOVE anything Julie Andrews still to this day). Seeing Wicked 10 years ago really solidified my career path and then seeing it again this past month was a very special moment. I also am a HUGE Waitress: The Musical fan and would love to swing and be able to play Jenna and Dawn :). 

JD: I was introduced to two of my favourite productions at university. Paula Vogel’s Indecent tells a beautiful story inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 debut of Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance.” My other favourite is William Shakespere’s farcical comedy, “The Comedy of Errors,” centred on mistaken identity and slapstick humour.

Jenna, you were in Talk Is Free Theatre’s production of The Music Man. What was that like for you? 

JD: It was an incredible experience getting to work with some fantastic actors at such a young age! These early experiences broadened my appreciation for the art of theatre and storytelling.

Have you ever participated in a theatre camp?

AW: I have been a part of many theatre camp productions, as well as a program director at [another] summer camp. I met some of my friends for life at musical theatre camp and the experience is magical! (Shoutout to Trillium Lakelands Arts Camp!) I have since been a staff member at this same camp as well! 

I also founded my own theatre arts company when I was 16. This company started through theatre and dance themed summer camps that I taught and organized myself.  This then led me to open my own dance performing arts studio in my home town of Fenelon Falls for 3 years before heading off to college.  

The best thing about theatre camp is the friendships! Being able to be in a judgement free space sharing with like minded people your joys and discovering the beauty of theatre was and still is the best part for me. 

Being a camper once has really helped me to know how important that these weeks are for many campers and encourages me to give my 110% at all times. If I can share my joy and inspire one camper all summer to believe in themselves and maybe even to realize that they can do this as a job and career if that's something they dream of, then that makes it all worth it for me. 

JD: I went to Camp White Pine for many years and worked there for three summers as a counsellor. 

The best parts about summer camp are spending time with friends, making new memories, and participating in awesome activities! As a counsellor, ensuring kids’ safety while promoting a fun and inclusive environment is my top priority! At camp, I want to foster a welcoming community for all.

And Mackenzie, you are a TIFT Summer Theatre Camp alumni!

MH: Yes! I think one of the best things about it was being surrounded by and participating in activities with kids that shared the same interests as myself. It helped me to make friends and be more comfortable in my environment.

What are you most looking forward to doing with the kids this summer?

AW: I am most looking forward to watching kids conquer goals/surprise themselves with what they are capable of!

MH: One of the things I love most about working with kids is that they are so authentically themselves and have the best imaginations. I’m most looking forward to working with their ideas and seeing them shine onstage.

JD: I look forward to providing the kids a structured and supportive environment to explore and express their creativity. I am excited to work with the campers on learning scripts, understanding character building, improvisation, and elements of singing and dancing!

Do you spend time as a performer in your life now?

MH: I’m still in school for it, but I feel like almost my entire life revolves around theatre. I do productions through my school in the winter and spring while also taking classes, so it’s pretty busy all year round, but it’s still one of the things that brings me the most joy.

AW: I am very lucky to be pursuing a career in theatre professionally on top of teaching dance. I am very excited to see where these beginning stages of my performance career take me! I love performing so much and the joy that I feel being able to bring a story to life for an audience is a feeling cannot describe. Two of my favourite roles I have had the opportunity to play are Jellylorum in Cats, and Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins

Alexis, do you think someone needs to be interested in theatre to benefit from taking part in Summer Theatre Camp? What kind of skills/experiences can transfer to other aspects of life?

AW: Absolutely not! I think within the umbrella of theatre arts there is something for everyone. Whether it be learning to make new friends, gaining confidence, trying something new, or using your imagination, there is something everyone can gain. Theatre is a collaborative art form, there's something everyone can bring. Summer Theatre Camp is a space where campers from all walks of life and experience can grow and learn and be a part of something magical. There are roles and opportunities for everyone and we cannot wait to watch you learn and grow. 

How have you grown, having participated in the arts in one way or another?

MH: When I was a kid I was very shy and quiet and struggled with putting myself out there, especially in school. Growing up participating in the arts has helped me so much with coming out of my shell and becoming more comfortable with myself, even when I’m doing something silly onstage in front of an audience.

JD: Engaging in artistic activities has enhanced my creativity and innovative thinking skills. I have developed a new sense of confidence by putting myself on a stage in front of an audience. Furthermore, exploring art forms from different cultures has also broadened my understanding and appreciation of diversity, leading to a more inclusive worldview. Lastly, participating in the arts has contributed to my well-being and personal fulfillment as someone who loves the arts and performance.

AW: The arts have given me and continue to give me confidence, perseverance, joy, bravery and strength. I would not be the person I am today without experience and a career in the arts. I have grown as a person and as a performer and I cannot imagine my life without the arts. 

Do you think it’s important to have a Summer Theatre Camp for kids available in Barrie/Simcoe County?

AW, MH, JD: Absolutely! 

JD: A Summer Theatre Camp for kids available in Barrie/Simcoe County can positively impact children’s development. Kids can expect to develop various skills such as public speaking, problem-solving, and time management, all while keeping them engaged and active in activities. Local camps also offer an excellent opportunity for kids to make new friends in the community, bringing children together through shared experiences and performances.

Thank you so much! We can’t wait to see all the happy faces at camp this summer!

Registration is open for Talk Is Free Theatre’s Summer Theatre Camp.