Soloist Morgan Willis sings the lyrics to "Finland, Finland, Finland" along with her fellow campers during rehearsal. The group performed the song and dance number at the final show on July 12.

Camp sets the bar high for theater
Kevin Jones runs a series of four week-long performing arts camps for kids.
By Ryan N. Jones | SWoCo

"Your line is 'not dead yet,' not 'not yet dead'... that's their line," said Meghan Kelleher, explaining a verse from a popular musical to one of her performers.

She had roughly five days to teach an entire song and dance number from Monty Python's "Spamalot" to a group of about 20 singers and dancers.

Though the show has made its run on Broadway, Kelleher was talking to a different level of performers. This troop is still in high school, and this was the second day of a not-so-typical summer camp that bypasses the usual ropes course and Popsicle stick crafts.

The Kevin Jones Summer Performing Arts Camp is a series of four week-long camps -- one for first- through fourth-graders, two for middle school and one for high school -- dedicated to teaching kids what it takes to make it in show business.

The Combo Camp -- for which Kelleher serves as director and choreographer -- for high school students took place July 7-12 at the Burton Center for Arts and Technology in Salem. Nearly 50 young performers chose between two "streams" of focus -- acting or musical theatre -- and participated in rehearsals, workshops and their choice of two electives -- such as "improvisation" and "stage combat" -- each day.

They worked with a full staff of professional actors, singers and choreographers to prepare short scenes, songs and dance numbers for the final public performance at the end of the week. In honor of the camp's 10-year anniversary, they performed the most popular pieces from over the years.

Trey Mitchell has a long list of theater credits under his belt; he's performed both on Broadway and on camera. He was also a camper at the first Performing Arts Camp in 1999 and returned this year to work as a camp director and lead choreographer.

Kevin Jones gives direction to campers who performed "Spelling Bee" at the camp's final show on July 12. For more photos, see The Notebook at swo-co.com.

"I learned a lot working in New York," he said "To work in the business for a few years and then come back and share what I've learned is great."

Since the camp boasts a professional-level staff, expectations are high for campers.

"We treat this like we're staging a Broadway show. We don't baby them," said Jones, the founder of the Performing Arts Camp. "We treat them like seasoned performers. It's amazing to see how the kids come up to the bar we set for them."

Jones moved to Roanoke from New York to work as musical director at Mill Mountain Theatre, and is now based in Southwest Roanoke County. He started the camp when he saw the level of interest in theater among young people in the area. He used the Stagedoor Manor summer camp in New York, where he worked as musical director, as his model.

The camp's high expectations seem to pay off. Like Mitchell, many of Jones' former students and campers go on to the professional level. Some have landed roles on daytime soaps-- former student Mackenzie Mauzy played Phoebe on "The Bold and the Beautiful" from 2006 - 2008. Others are studying at top theater schools in cities such as New York.

"I feel like I'm touching the future. I've been around now long enough to see their success," said Jones.

But the biggest aspect he hopes to instill in campers is "confidence."

"We want them to walk into any audition and hold their own. To be able to deliver a first-rate audition that will get them a callback," Jones said.

Emma Sayles, who has been coming to the Performing Arts Camp for eight years and is currently a member of the Kevin Jones Performing Arts Studio Ensemble, said the experience has given her more than just confidence in the audition room.

"[Camp] has taught me about myself and what I'm capable of doing, not just in theater but in life," said Sayles, who will begin her senior year this fall at Glenvar High School. "I'm more than I thought I could be."

With workshops covering everything from resume-building and headshots to how to find an agent, the camp also works to assure campers are prepared to enter the business of performance.

Sayles says her goal is to one day work on Broadway.

"I'm realistic about it, but it'd be really nice to get there," she said.

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