From a third-row seat in the Tyler Civic Theatre, Michael McLeod watches a group of students on stage.

He likes what he sees.

“You guys are doing great,” he calls out as he looks up from a script.

The young actors are about halfway through a three-week camp during which they are rehearsing and will perform “Shrek the Musical Jr.”

The 22 enrolled in the camp range from students in elementary to high school grades. Some have no experience and others already have been in plays for years.

This was the first day the actors in the Summer Theatre Arts Review rehearsed in the space in which they will perform. They needed time to get used to the new surroundings.

“Listen up. Look at me,” calls out McLeod, the director, as he goes over where they need to enter and exit the theater.

McLeod, who has acted and has worked for decades with groups to stage plays, said camp is all about what he calls the Big Three: fun, learning and putting on a good show.

“You want them to have fun,” he said. “After all, this is summer camp. ... Some are hardcore (theater) people and others are just getting into it. I want everybody to have fun.”

Children are naturally creative, he said. “If you leave a kid alone in a room with a piece of string, they will find a way to make (it) into a game.”

His challenge is finding ways to bring their creativity out within theater.

“I’ll ask them to show me what they are thinking about their character,” he said. “If it’s working, I let them do it.”

Becky Clayton, the education coordinator at the Tyler Civic Theatre, said summer camp and the theater’s other acting workshops are about helping youths become more confident.

“A lot of them lack of confidence,” she said. “I’ve seen it when they would not get on stage and then their confidence blossoms and they can’t wait to go on.”

She said the civic theater wants acting camp to be a safe place where youths take chances and make friends.

Twelve-year-old Fabiola Caraballo, a student at Moore Middle School, plays Donkey, Shrek’s wisecracking sidekick. She has attended theater camps for years.

“It (acting) expands my personality,” she said. “I’m always the crazy one, so Donkey and I have a lot of things in common.”

At age 11, Abigail Ourso is also a veteran of theater camps. She has acted since she was about 6. She is one of the Three Little Pigs in this production.

“Everyone is so positive,” she said. “Every time I come (to camp) I make a bigger and bigger family of friends.”

She said she takes acting “super serious.”

“This is where I belong,” she said.

As the rehearsal continued, there was a moment when the children all seemed to talk at once.

“Let’s not get crazy,” McLeod said calmly.

Moments of chaos are not always a bad thing, he said after rehearsal.

“It means they’re coming out of their shell and having fun and you want that to happen.”

Danny Mogle has covered news in East Texas for decades. He currently focuses on arts, entertainment and human interest stories and serves as the editor of Lifestyles Magazine.

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