Free summer theater camp moves to Warren

WARREN — The Oakland Center for Arts Kids First Theater Initiative is offering a free summer theater / arts camp at the Warren Community Amphitheatre.

Students ages 5 to 18 years old will participate in different arts activities from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday starting June 3, and the children will stage productions of “Disney’s Beauty & the Beast Jr.” and “Disney’s The Lion King Jr.”

Not only is the camp free, but participants will receive breakfast and lunch each day for no charge.

Last year the Oakland received $63,500 in American Rescue Plan funds from Warren City Council to move its youth theater programming from Boardman to Warren.

“For this first year, the city of Warren was so generous with us in getting us to move there, we wanted to make the camp free,” said Brendan Byers, president and executive director of the Oakland. “As I went around talking to people, I kept hearing there are not enough things for kids to do, and with the economy it’s expensive getting a babysitter in the summer.”

In the past, the Oakland drew about 100 children for its Camp ShowBiz! when it was in Boardman, and it drew participants from as far away as Akron, Byers said. The camp at Warren Community Amphitheatre, 321 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren, will be open to all children, not just those in Warren.

The theater is partnering with Trumbull Art Gallery to add an art component to the program.

Students also will rehearse and work on the two musicals, both based on Disney animated features. All participants in the summer camp will be cast in the shows.

Performance dates for “Beauty & the Beast” and “The Lion King” haven’t been finalized, but because of weekend events at the amphitheater, the public performances will be on weekdays.

“Because it’s summer, kids should still be able to attend, even though it’s during the week,” Byers said.

According to Byers, the arts professionals who come in contact with the kids undergo an extensive background check, and no adult is alone with any child at any time. There will be about 10 to 12 staff on site each day, depending upon what is scheduled, and the staff includes both arts professionals and former participants.

“Having those kids who’ve been through the program helps with those who may be on the fence (about participating), because they can speak from their personal experience,” Byers said.

Parents can register their children by emailing oaklandcenter@gmail.com or calling 330-406-0606.

Byers doesn’t have an estimate for how many students they will have this summer, but he doesn’t expect to exceed what they averaged in Boardman.

“Because we’re new there, people don’t know us yet,” he said.

The Oakland Center for the Arts was founded by Alexandra Vansuch in 1986, and it used several venues, primarily in Mahoning County, to present theater until 2014.

Byers, who was operations manager of the Oakland for 3.5 years in the 1990s and managing director of its Magic Carpet Theatre Company, was part of a group that acquired the Oakland name in 2016 from its former board.

While that incarnation of the Oakland primarily has focused on children’s theater and workshops, Byers said the theater will be announcing a full season shortly that will include both youth theater and adult productions.

Summer camp

The Oakland Center for the Arts Kids First Theater Initiative’s 8th Camp ShowBiz! starts June 3 and will run into August at the Warren Community Amphitheatre, 321 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren. It will run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and is open to children ages 5 to 18. The camp is free and includes breakfast and lunch daily. Parents can register their children by emailing oaklandcenter@gmail.com or calling 330-406-0606.

Have an interesting story? Email Andy Gray agray@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.


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