Jul. 21—This weekend, students of the Theater of Arts Discipline (TOAD) summer camp will perform "Beauty and the Beast" at the sold-out Evergreen Playhouse.
"This is probably one of my favorite shows and I've been wanting to direct it because all the different pieces and the costumes and the gothic story behind it and, to me, it's about a female whose strength is really the focus of the show," said Rich Garrett, who co-founded TOAD with his wife, Kris.
The Garretts reside in Chehalis. During the year, TOAD hosts an after-school program for students around the region. Over the course of four weeks, students learn and perform a musical. TOAD provides what Garrett calls "theater in a box" with costumes, sound, lights and a director.
A few children's theater groups provide similar services, such as Missoula Children's Theater, but typically include their own staff in the performances. TOAD casts instead feature only the students from the participating school.
In the summers, TOAD puts on day camps. Students rehearse from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. over three weeks to prepare for the show, which is only performed three times.
The first day of camp, the kids learn a song and dance before auditioning in the afternoon. The cast is decided that night.
By the end of the first week, the cast has learned the choreography and score. The second is spent practicing. The third week, "tech week," is the final and most challenging as all the technical pieces are added, creating a new set of challenges for directors and actors.
And after one weekend of three performances, it's all over.
If TOAD's camp was created solely for the purpose of creating spectacular actors, perhaps the students would perform more than three times. The purpose, instead, is to cultivate positive experiences for kids in the arts, encourage relationship building and above all, help students gain confidence.
TOAD's summer program hosts children ages 6 to 16. Some, Garrett said, come year after year. Every summer, he sees their character growth on and off the stage. For those three weeks, he said, the students are like one big family.
With only three shows, demand for tickets is high. At first, TOAD limited the audience size to 60 people. After parents of camp attendees bought their tickets and the rest were quickly picked off, people were calling to complain. Garrett said they increased the number of tickets to 100 early this week. Already, tickets are sold out.
This proves the community values the arts, Garrett said. A participant in theater for 40 years and an educator for 18, he is baffled by the common trend to defund the arts when school budgets see cuts.
Most of the time, TOAD works with schools in Olympia, Lacey and Tacoma. They will look to expand their local impact in the coming years.
After Beauty and the Beast wraps up this weekend, TOAD will start all over with a new camp for the show "Seussical the Musical," which will be performed on the outdoor stage at the Evergreen Playhouse.
"Whether or not they ever do theater again in the future, the confidence that they gain is a difference-maker when they go out in the world and do what they're going to do," Garrett said. "They will always look back on these experiences as something that was important in their lives."
To register for TOAD's next summer camp, visit toadtheatre.com/summer-camp-2021.