Theater Camp | Fresh Takes
Fresh takes and film reviews from new voices in film.
Katrina, Sihaam, Daniella, Caleb and Harrison
04 Sep 23
Fresh Takes is a space for the latest generation of film lovers to share their views and opinions on some of the great films we are showing at Picturehouse cinemas.
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Here are some Fresh Takes on the hilarious new comedy Theater Camp, which uses mockumentary style (and plenty of theatrical panache) to tell the story of an upstate New York performing arts camp, and the zany team of teachers tasked with keeping it afloat.
Katrina Sproge, 25Katrina is a media production and communications professional/forever cinema geek. See more of Katrina's work here.
Theatre kids, rejoice! An accurate comedic ode to performing middle schoolers has been long overdue – and here we have it.
Theater Camp is a mockumentary-style comedy about a financially struggling theatre camp for middle schoolers, led and organised by adults who are still very much theatre kids themselves. Once their leader Joan falls into a coma, her clueless self-proclaimed business coach son and the other teachers must find a way to keep the camp going. Of course, they decide to utilise the most powerful fundraising tool in the teen film universe: putting on a show.
The over-the-top performances of Ben Platt and Molly Gordon are perfect as the leading drama teacher duo of the camp. In addition to great performance throughout the cast, the cinematography by Nate Hurtsellers is surprisingly stunning for a mockumentary; sometimes maybe too stunning for amusement.
The theatre backgrounds are palpable throughout the cast and writers, seen in the musical talent of the children actors and in the storyline. As a theatre kid once myself, I instantly recognised the inner dynamics of the drama club – rumours, superstitions, peculiar training methods (yes, even something similar to acting out the person you were in your previous life), eternal lack of funding and the pure joy of it all.
While it might be a less engaging watch for non-performers, for theatre kids like me, this will be a hilarious trip back to the good old days through a distant lens, revealing the ridiculousness of the politics that go on behind the scenes of a drama club.
Sihaam Naik, 21
Sihaam is a writer and editor based in London, and a proud second-generation theatre kid. You can find more of her work here.
Theater Camp is a love letter to theatre kids everywhere. With a mockumentary style format, plenty of tongue-in-cheek references and a killer original musical, it's safe to say there wasn't a single moment when my cinema wasn't bursting with laughter – but between visual gags and characterisation lies a tale of remembering your roots.
The film was inspired by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman's experiences as kids at a theatre camp, and you can tell they've injected this thespian enthusiasm throughout the film. I especially enjoyed the comedic urgency in the tone of the film. To the kids at theatre camp, this is the highlight of their summers. All that matters is getting the leading role in 'Cats: Immersive', smuggling in 'throat-coat', or using tear sticks to simulate tears. They cherish their parts, these feelings and friends, but don't realise that summers will come and go and one day this stage will be a distant fond memory.
The juxtaposition between wide-eyed kids and kooky adults running the camp enhanced this feeling. Despite being the people who run a magical, imaginative camp, they have yet to tap into its powers. But as Noah Galvin's Gwenn says, "We're theatre people; we know how to turn cardboard into gold." And as a former theatre kid, Amen to that.
Daniella Opoku, 23
Daniella is a research-based video essayist with a YouTube channel named Town of Tawiah. She is a self-proclaimed decoloniser, with an unhealthy film obsession for genres including Afro-surrealism and documentaries. At the heart of Daniella's interests is diversity and inclusion in film. Subscribe to her YouTube channel here, and find her on TikTok at @townoftawiah.
"We know how to turn cardboard into gold," says Noah Galvin as Glenn Winthropp. Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman's film Theater Camp was a step into the flamboyance, inclusivity and reforming nature of theatre culture that is often undermined (and underfunded). It had me laughing along at all of the musical references, which are so relatable to the thespians watching, but the spectacle that is the theatre community is extremely entertaining even to an outside observer.
The nods to queer culture were particularly enjoyable, through both the sassy and witty commentary from the queer cast members, but also as a reminder of how theatre is often an escape for many people who are marginalised in mainstream society. It highlights how the art form helps so many of us find our voice, not only creatively but also in our journey to adulthood.
A more subdued narrative resonant to the film was how powerful theatre is for reformation. When summer camp principal Joan suffers from a seizure due to the strobe lights, her vlogger son Troy, the antithesis of a theatre-lover, takes on the role of principal and has to manage the administration and financial responsibilities of the camp. Troy's trajectory in the film serves as an extended metaphor for the therapeutic power of drama to teach morals and serve as a form of character reformation.
Harrison Berg, 25
Harrison is a London-based graduate of the University of Nottingham and a Trainee Solicitor. When away from his desk, Harrison is diving into all things film-related and finding any chance to log a film onto his Letterboxd account.
Chaotic, eccentric and endearing, Theater Camp captures exactly every quality you'd expect to find at a summer camp in New York: the theatre fanatics, the neighbouring enemy camp, and the kids being their true, authentic selves.
Spending my childhood summers as a camper and leader on UK and US summer camps, Theater Camp rocked me to my absolute core. Meticulously crammed with relentless comedy, lifelong friendships in turmoil and big musical numbers – not to mention plenty of pop-culture and musical theatre references – the 93-minute run time was a nostalgic breeze. In its loving tribute, Theater Camp never compromises on its pace (much like summer camps themselves) but nonetheless lets you embrace the emotional beats while still basking in the comedy.
The writers are at the helm of this fun, but equally so are the cast – Broadway star Ben Platt shines alongside Molly Gordon as a theatre-obsessed duo of teachers, and Jimmy Tatro effortlessly supports as the incompetent head of the camp. The above elements combined with the mockumentary-style filmmaking and vintage colour grading help to emphasise the timeless aesthetic of the camp that the audience can fully immerse themselves in, much like the campers.
Theater Camp is a clear passion project by Gordon and Lieberman (in their impressive directorial feature debut) who could only have had a blast making this film, and this was reflected in my audience – endless belly-laughs, hands over mouths, and the biggest smiles on every face leaving the cinema. Jazz hands and standing ovations all around.
Caleb Obediah, 25
Caleb is a London-based Facilitator/Events Producer who's currently writing music for a short film.
I really enjoyed Theater Camp. I had no idea what to expect going in; I thought it would be something similar to Disney Channel's Camp Rock (which, can I just say, I thought was epic at the time!) but I was pleasantly surprised to find something different – more like Camp Rock but from the angle of the 'adults', focused on the frank behind-the-scenes of it all.
Theater Camp explores the fun, DIY, supposedly very high-stakes things that come with running a theatre camp. I won't spoil anything, but I think familiar viewers will be surprised by just how similar it is to the real thing despite being a mockumentary.
I always make a thing of not laughing just because the audience are, I want to really have found it funny or moving. There were many moments when I cackled. Even though I do feel like viewers would have had to be there for the jokes to land even deeper, you can't help but empathise with the human-to-human interactions.
If you're patient enough, I really do believe however there's something in it for everyone, whether that's reminiscing about school days or seeing yourself up there on the stage, or even the very human need to feel a part of something. I never went to a theatre camp, but at the end of the film, I found myself longing for one more sing-song with my 'new friends' – nostalgic for my childhood innocence, perhaps?
This is a lighthearted watch, an ode to something specific, but regardless of if you can relate, it becomes a joyous time. I had a smile on my face throughout and methinks you will too. Deffo recommend.