In character: Young stage lovers take to camp to learn the trade

Published 12:01 pm Sunday, July 16, 2017

Marlea Emberson did not think twice about whether or not she would sign up for the Matchbox Theatre’s Theatre Camp, being held this week at Christ Church in Austin.

“I wanted to be with friends who all like the same thing,” said the 13-year-old.

And that was pretty much true for all who attended the camp, with young actors and stage lovers seeking the camaraderie that comes with working together on a show. The camp ends Friday.

Michael Miles takes notes during the Matchbox Children’s Theatre theatre camp Tuesday afternoon. Eric Johnson/

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“It’s a way to make new friends,” agreed Olivia Felten, 9, who is attending camp for the second year.

The camp’s session, which has been part of the Matchbox offerings for many years, is headed up by Angela Donovan, a theater lover whose daughter is also part of the troupe this year.

All those attending the camp will appear in the production of “No One Will Marry a Princess with a Tree Growing Out of Her Head” in August at the Historic Paramount Theatre.

Each season has its own focus, said Donovan. Last year, she said portions of Shakespeare’s plays were part of the camp production, so the camp itself concentrated on Shakespeare.

This year, she said, the camp is focusing on the basics of theater, of skills needed to put a show together from start to finish. There are 17 attending the session, ages 8 to 13.

Donovan said she loves working with the kids, and what they bring to the experience. Skill-building is done inside, but outside as well, in the form of games. One activity last week saw kids working on controlling their emotions and expressions, as one person approached them with a silly saying and facial expressions, trying to make them laugh.

Most importantly, she said, she wants students to have the important takeaways of collaboration with peers, and friendships.

Eighth grader Megan Dilley-Jones, 13, is a veteran of theater camp, having attended for four years — so long, in fact, that she had to really think about what parts she has played to date, either at camps or as part of the Matchbox or school plays and activities.

“Hmmm,” she said, forehead creasing. “Let’s see: a nurse, two clowns, Old MacDonald, a jester … “ adding it was hard to remember all of them.

Denni Heimer, another eighth grader, played a wicked sister in the Matchbox production this past year of “Cinderella.” A newcomer to Austin, she thinks the camp is a good way to meet people and make friends.

“And have fun,” she said.

Angela Donovan begins the classroom portion of the Matchbox Children’s Theatre’s theater camp Tuesday at Christ Church. Eric Johnson/

Clara McIntyre, 7, on the other hand, is a newcomer to the camp, but no less focused on the week.

“I just love doing theater; this is the second play I’ve done,” she said. “I just like being around it.”

She is intent, she added, on getting a good part in “No One Will Marry a Princess with a Tree Growing Out of Her Head.”

And what part would that be?

“The Princess!” she said, nodding her head.

Deb Nicklay can be reached at

Eric Johnson can be reached at