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THEATER : Children's Play : The oldest participant in Camarillo Youth Theater's 'Robin Hood' is 17--and she's the producer.


Anumber of theater companies in Ventura County cater to aspiring young actors and technicians. One, however, is different.

The two-year-old Camarillo Youth Theater is staffed entirely by young people, from its Board of Directors to spear-carrying thespians. Turn 21, and you're out.

In actual practice, the current age range tops out even younger. Kari Moffat, 17, is producer of the company's "Robin Hood," which begins Friday night at the Camarillo Airport Theater. And she's the oldest participant in the production, save for a few adults who act as chaperons and in advisory positions.

The two co-directors, Leah Florence and Jayme Housh, are both 16.

Moffat, who will be a senior at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, became president of the Camarillo Youth Theater after her predecessor left for college.

"I started with the Camarillo Community Theater (the Youth Theater's--you should pardon the expression--parent organization) about two years ago, when the group performed 'Oliver!' " she explained during a break at a recent rehearsal, "and have been involved in almost every production since--in the box office, the lobby or somewhere."

This is Moffat's first stint as producer, although her experience as junior class treasurer, she said, "taught me how to speak in front of people." Last year Moffat was invited to attend the Congressional Youth Leadership Conference in Washington.

Raising money to cover her travel expenses provided another valuable lesson for a would-be producer. "I've heard how some local children's theater companies charge to participate, which seems a little strange to me," she said. "We do ask money for T-shirts promoting the show, we do ask cast and crew members to sell tickets, and we ask $8 each for the costume fund, but that's about it."

"Robin Hood" inherited an operating budget of between $1,000 and $1,500 from last year's productions, "The Wizard of Oz" and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," "which gets eaten up very fast," said Camarillo Community Theater Vice President Michael Voll.

The costume budget for "Robin Hood" is $350, Moffat said. "Some of the pieces have been donated, and we've gone to thrift shops and gotten pieces, so we can create costumes for a very low price. My sister, Brooke, is designing them, and my mother, Karen (who was chaperoning the afternoon rehearsal) is pretty much building them."

Construction of costumes, Voll said, is one of the jobs in which adults assist, "because there are certain things that the kids can't physically do."

After becoming producer, Moffat left with her family on a long-planned, one-month vacation. On the road, she faced her first official crisis.

"I called back from New Mexico and discovered that our original director had quit and all but two members of the cast had left with him--the trip from his home in Newbury Park was more than he could handle, and his leading actors were also from there," she said. "We had to cast all the leads again and jiggle some other cast members around."

Moffat continued with the enthusiasm of a born promoter. "We were able to pull in some really great kids, though, and think that it will be a fine show. And, it's turned out to be a great lesson."

In addition to recasting the show, Moffat had to find a new director. She wound up with two. Leah Florence, who will be entering her senior year at Camarillo High School, has been involved in various theatrical companies in Orange and Ventura counties since she was 7. The proficient pianist and aspiring opera singer was already musical director of "Robin Hood."

Jayme Housh, the Youth Theater's treasurer, has just finished her first freshman semester studying computer science at Ventura College, and was originally scheduled to be the show's choreographer.

"We divided the directing into the blocking of individual scenes," explained Florence. "And after the actors learn their movement on stage, Jayme and I take notes and compare them. It cuts down on our work, which is important since Jayme and I are both also working in other shows." (Florence is rehearsing as an actress in the Camarillo Community Theater's upcoming production of "H.M.S. Pinafore," and Housh will play two parts in the Cabrillo Music Theater's upcoming "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.")

"The kids learned really fast," Florence said, "especially the younger ones, who have had to memorize their parts right away, because they don't read as well."


"Robin Hood" will be performed Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 22 at 7:30 p.m., at the Camarillo Airport Theater, 333 Skyway Drive, Camarillo. Tickets are $5 (general) and $3.50 (children 12 and under and seniors 60 and over). For reservations or more information call 388-5716.

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