Backstage at the Manitou Theater
Manitou has a wide selection of creative activities, foremost among them is our drama program. Each week a different College League team puts on a show. These productions are run like a big company project — they have a budget, a professional staff to work with, a limited amount of time to practice and complete, and the team needs to come up with creative ways to promote it. Each will have musical components and involve collaboration with our camp band and music department. Overall, close to 50 campers and counselors will participate in each production — on stage, backstage, sets, costumes, music, and promotion.
So what makes the Manitou theater experience so special? Let’s ask theater co-director Steve Borowka, who returned to Manitou last summer after he successfully started and ran his own theater camp for twelve summers. Previously, Steve led our 5-person theater staff team for six summers.
Describe how it is to work on the plays?
In a 6 day production period, every minute is a brainstorm. New ideas are constantly popping up, changing, and evolving. We never truly complete the show until the final performance. It’s important for us as a staff to allow the campers to shine as brightly as possible, not out-staging them in any aspect. Our first priority is always to prepare the campers as much as possible.
How is Manitou theater different from professional theater?
Its rare in conventional theater for there to be such a sense of teamwork. Many kids come to a camp with a focus on athletics and they bring that team mentality from the fields onto the stage. Each performer is here to support one another in whatever way they can. This mentality benefits each production in ways I’ve never seen in theater.
An unavoidable aspect to doing theater at an all-boys camp is the need to fill female roles, can you speak to the challenges that this poses?
Because each play is for College League, many campers see dressing up as a woman as an opportunity to go the extra mile for their team. We ask them if they are comfortable playing a female part at auditions; if they say no it’s our policy to make them feel as safe as possible. While it is hilarious to see them rehearse in high heels, no one gives them grief, the team is very supportive.
Describe the chaos of play night.
That entire 24hr period is a sight to behold. With a thousand jobs left to be done, no one is above chipping in whatever way they can. We have campers doing other campers make-up. The paint is usually still drying on the sets as the audience is filling in. From where I sit in the booth I can see the stampede of campers rushing up from dinner to see the show, and that’s when I know the show is about to start. It is both amusing and terrifying.
What is the most important thing that you’ve learned from Manitou theater?
I have never been more challenged creatively in my life. I’ve had to learn how to fabricate 80 red bow ties from scratch, we turned a bundle of cloth and some paint into the Alamo. We made an 18 wheeler out of a golf cart! I’ve definitely become a more resourceful and thoughtful person because of my experiences in Manitou theater.