Kids and adults get dramatically funny in mockumentary Theater Camp
Every community speaks their own kind of language, but those in the theater community are a breed apart. Even those who love going to shows don’t truly know what it is to eat, sleep, and breathe theater, to feel it to the depths of one’s soul. That kind of commitment and love is on display in the new film Theater Camp, as is all sorts of ridiculousness that can arise in a singularly-focused environment.
The movie centers on a fictional camp called Adiron Acts owned by Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris), located somewhere in the Adironack Mountains in New York. A beacon for area theater kids for years, it’s always on the brink of financial ruin, never more than the year depicted in the film, when Joan falls ill and her bro-ish son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) has to step up to run the camp.
Longtime camp staffers Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon), Amos (Ben Platt), Glenn (Noah Galvin), and others do their best to sideline Troy while still giving campers the experience they’ve come to expect. That includes all sorts of classes, like stage combat led by Janet (Ayo Edebiri), and rehearsals for the camp’s many productions, highlighted this year by an original musical about the life of Joan written by Rebecca-Diane and Amos.
Directed by Gordon and Nick Lieberman, and written by Gordon, Lieberman, Platt, and Galvin, the film is a mockumentary that’s both a loving tribute to the world it depicts and a send-up of all its foibles. All of the kids who attend the camp are ultra-committed to the craft of creating theater, with their enthusiasm bordering on mania. Those running the camp share their fervor, but also take their roles very seriously, as if they were putting on a Broadway show.
The combination is ripe for ridicule, but it’s clear that the filmmakers are making fun of themselves. To be in theater is almost by definition to be over the top, and everything depicted in the film is heightened so that it’s believably absurd. Some are tropes that have been seen before and some are unique to the theater camp experience, but all are funny and speak to the personalities required to go into that environment.
If the film feels a little under-baked, that’s because it’s a low-budget production filmed in just three weeks. More time and money would have allowed the filmmakers to fill out the cast and ramp up some of the production value. Still, what they were able to accomplish with relatively little is impressive and is right in line with the theater spirit, one that allows them to, as the film says, turn cardboard into gold.
Although it’s an ensemble film, the adult actors get most of the attention. Gordon and Platt are given the most to do, and their camaraderie/exasperation with each other makes them fun to watch. Galvin is not as well-known, but he winds up giving the best performance in the film thanks to a final act transformation. The kids deliver what is required of them, but none of them stand out in any way.
Those who aren’t part of the theater community or know about its eccentricities may find Theater Camp a bit much to take, but it has enough earnestness and sweetness at its core that most will be won over by the end. In theater, the show must always go on, and everyone involved found a way to make this small film sing.
Theater Camp is now playing in theaters.