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THEATER CAMP : FOR KIDS ONLY : Role Playing : Youngsters participate in dance, mime, vocal exercises, improvisation and theatrical scenes.


Baseball cap, crown, turban, bonnet or cowboy hat.

Donning different headgear can trigger a whole new way to act. And switching hats--and roles--is part of the fun this summer at the Ventura College Teenage Drama/ Musical Comedy Workshop.

"It's meant to be an experience and fun, but fun with a structure," said Jay Varela, who with Gary Mascaro will direct the workshop.

Varela, whose long list of TV, film and theater credits includes "Dallas," "Falcon Crest" and "Cagney and Lacey," currently teaches at Ventura College. He outlined plans for the jampacked week that includes dance, mime, improvisation, vocal exercises and dramatic and musical-comedy scenes.

Just like professional actors, youngsters will begin with daily warm-up--breathing and stretching and free movement to music that says Varela "gets them into the spirit."

Theater games will focus on what kids do in life. When teen-agers dress all in black or dye their hair they are testing a new way to be, Varela said. "Through observing, they naturally rehearse and try on different characteristics."

So with a hat or a pair of shoes, a cape or a stick, a youngster can slip on a whole new personality and strut, slouch, stagger or whatever.

Mornings also will involve mime or improvisation. Mascaro will share his expertise in choreography gained during a long theater career that includes the work he is presently doing with the Improvisational Theater Project at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

Under Mascaro's supervision youngsters will grasp sticks or wooden dowels to learn swordplay. Shakespearean scenes such as Romeo and Tybalt's fight in "Romeo and Juliet" or Lysander and Demetrius' comic fight in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" will be acted out. And Mascaro will lead dance ensembles from "Guys and Dolls," "Carousel" and "Oklahoma!"

Puppet improvisation is another technique. "If they're having a problem with a character, you give them a puppet," said Varela. "Once they get the puppet," he said, it "has the freedom to do the character."

Breathing exercises, singing, verse work and diction will be taught by Linda Fern Fay, the workshop's musical director who is a music teacher at Oxnard College.

Students "will explore their voices," Fay said. "Those that are inexperienced will be able to find their range. We'll do breathing to hit the higher or lower notes."

After lunch, students will work toward a recital scheduled for the final afternoon of the workshop. Auditions will be held June 25, and depending on the talent and age of participants, the scenes for the performance will be selected.

Varela chooses material that he feels is appropriate to the participant's age. "There are wonderful works such as Maurice Sendak's 'The Wild Things' that respect the fears and respect the perspectives the child really has and doesn't think they're foolish," he said.

For older teen-agers Varela has material written by 14- and 15-year-olds as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky. These deal with the realities of dysfunctional families, alcoholism or awakening sexual feelings.

In working on scenes, Varela takes a very physical, graphic approach to help youngsters find their own way of expressing themselves.

In a scene where two people are arguing, he asks the players to tell him what kinds of feelings their characters have, and to describe what, if any, weapons they might be holding. One youngster might say that his character is acting mean like he has boxing gloves. The other could say that her character is pretty easygoing and seems like she has a pillow. So she is given a pillow while he is asked to fake punches.

Now, said Varela, they're really engaged with each other, "because if they're not, they'll be bopped in the jaw." He added that no one gets hurt.

Workshop participants, who range from age 10 through 18, will be divided into age groups for some work. At other times an older student will act as a mentor for a younger one.

"One of the best ways to learn," Varela said, "is to teach."

At least two counselors will also be on staff. They are Ventura College theater students who have acting training and experience.

Some youngsters will be invited to participate in the chorus of "The Fantasticks," the musical the Theater Department is presenting this summer.

This is the first time the workshop is being offered. Varela decided to initiate it after he traveled to Rhode Island with the Improvisational Theater Project. He found throughout the Northeast that there is a tremendous investment in youth theater, and he decided the time was right to "create something here."

"It's a very active camp," Varela said. "Hopefully, when the kids get home, they'll be pooped and their parents will be happy."

* THE DETAILS: Teenage Drama/Musical Comedy Workshop is for young people entering grades six through 12. It runs Monday, June 25, to Friday, June 29, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Registration fee is $100. Participants should bring a cassette recorder and lunch, drinks are provided; wear sweats or clothes to move in and sturdy shoes. Youngsters with disabilities will be accommodated. The workshop is held in the Ventura College theater building. For more information, call Ventura College Community Services, 654-6459.

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