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SOL Theatre Company overcomes COVID-19 challenges

Children's theatre group holds five summer camps in six weeks

Kaden O’Keefe, left, and Jessica Kollar discuss the play Alice in Wonderland at SOL Theatre Company's filmmaking camp.
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Summer camps are a challenge to run under the best of circumstances, but running summer camps with social restrictions during a pandemic? That’s a challenge that not many would attempt.

Stage of Life (SOL) Theatre Company, however, took on that challenge this summer and thrived — holding five camps in six weeks.

SOL Executive Director Jennifer Johnson, along with Summer Lee Thomas and staff conducted camps in acting, singing, dancing and radio, and are now in the final week of a filmmaking camp that will result in a full-length production of “Alice in Wonderland.”

The pandemic changed the rules, of course, so before SOL could hold the camps, they had to get the go-ahead from Garfield County.

“We submitted our business plan like all businesses had to do at the beginning of summer, and we submitted our summer camp plan as well,” Johnson said. “And any time I’ve had to make any changes or adaptations, [Garfield County] has been crazy responsive.”

Despite the restrictive protocols, Johnson said that she and her staff still had concerns about being exposed to the virus.

“You just have to set aside your personal concerns about exposure and weigh the pros and cons of what you want to be to your community,” she said. “There’s honor in both decisions. There’s honor in saying ‘I’m not going to camp and risk exposure,’ and there’s honor in saying ‘I’m going to hold a camp and risk exposure to get the kids together.’ That was the direction we headed.”

The camps were all held outdoors at Ross Montessori School, but Johnson was given permission by the county to let the kids eat their lunches in the school’s cafeteria with restaurant rules in place — 6 feet apart, masks worn when not sitting down.

“It really was just about getting them used to these new rules, but the kids adapted quickly,” Johnson said. “They were just very excited to be back together.”

SOL was originally set to perform a full production of “The Little Prince” before COVID restrictions began in March, so they shifted gears and turned it into a radio show that they performed on KDNK in April. Since then, they’ve done two more plays as radio broadcasts: “The Velveteen Rabbit” in May, and “Danny the Champion of the World” in June.

“I was raised on a steady diet of ‘Prairie Home Companion’ radio shows in Michigan, so it was a short walk for me,” Johnson said. I asked KDNK ‘if we put it together would you air it?’ and they said ‘Yeah, when do you want it to air?’ Then I said ‘we’d like to air a few more’ and they told me anytime we want to air a radio show that they’re happy to hear it.”

Another change SOL made was during the singing camp, which usually ends with each child either singing their own song or performing a solo with the group. This year, they let each child record their own music video.

“We bit off quite a mouthful with that one, but it was really fun,” Johnson said. “We shot the whole thing on phone cameras and then video edited it, which was a lot of work. But now they all have videos of themselves.”

The dance camp adhered to social-distancing by learning a flash mob dance from Alexandra Jerkunica of Bonedale Ballet and Thomas that they performed at Mountain Fair.

In the filmmaking class for “Alice in Wonderland,” Johnson let three students who have attended her camps for many years — Dawson Gillespie, Jessica Kollar and Kaden O’Keefe — handle the filming, directing and choreography, respectively.

“We’re going to wait until September when it gets dark a little earlier and then we’re going to show the movie for friends and family sitting in their quarantine pods. … They’ll sit on the lawn and we’ll project it onto the side of the school,” Johnson said.

SOL won’t slow down anytime soon, as they’ll start production on “Charlotte’s Web” at the end of this month, create a Halloween radio show in October, and then a production of Charlie Brown’s Christmas in December.

“We’ve talked to a few organizations who want us to come and perform it outdoors,” Johnson said.

“Just keeping kids together creating art is the goal.”

jbear@postindependent.com


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