The Tandem Experience offers new concept in theater camp

The opening of the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211 St. in Cutler Bay, created the opportunity for a new theater-related summer camp called The Tandem Experience. Created by Robin Barson and Jeannie Sensale, the summer camp will culminate with a production of Pirates of Penzance.

The announcement about Tandem created a stir. The ink was barely dry on the contract with the county before they received three camp registrations.

Part of the excitement is that the camp will teach both performance and technical skills.

“This is a skilled-based program both in the performance and technical tracks,” Barson said.

The idea is to give the campers exposure to higher levels of instruction than they might get elsewhere.

“A lot of kids only want to go out and be a lead in a production,” Barson said. “A lot of kids end up in technical theater because their audition didn’t go so well. We think it’s an area that can be a training ground for a career. We want to introduce them to the possibility.”

Every production can be a positive experience even for those who are not the lead because each production teaches you something different.

“We want them to find ways to learn something in every possibility,” Barson said.

Barson, the drama teacher at Ammons Middle School, will be the camp artistic director. Sensale, the musical director, teaches voice to private students. She also is the musical director for productions at Ammons as well as Palmer Trinity School.

The two met in a community theater performance of Guys and Dolls in 1999. They are bringing in an additional teacher, Phebe Hibshman, the drama teacher at Palmer who is a trained Shakespearean actress, as artistic director.

“We’ve been building summer camps and working together in production for years both on stage and with children,” Barson said. “We’ve done numerous children’s theater productions.”

Barson said the summer camp is just the first project for Tandem.

The plan calls for bringing in professionals in both the acting and technical fields to work with the campers.

“A professional might do a master class on character,” Barson said, adding that lighting directors could do presentations on proper lights or a costume designer might come in for a session on costume design.

“They’ll do hands-on workshops with the technical students, so they’ll get an intensive in lighting,” Barson said.

Sensale said not only will the technical kids get great instruction, but the children on the performing side will gain broader knowledge as well.

The camp also will teach the children a great understanding of ensemble work. Barson said the camp will be a diva-free zone because the students will learn that everyone in a production has value.

Tandem is offering six full scholarships that will be based on need, talent and interest. They are seeking additional funding to make the camp even more affordable for families while still being cost effective.

In creating the company, Barson and Sensale received input from a parent advisory board and a teen advisory board. They wanted to ensure they were taking an educational approach that also fit with their philosophical approach.

Camp will run from July 16 to Aug. 10 and will feature a performing track and a technical track. The camp is open to children ages 10 to 18. The performance is scheduled for Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. It will be open to the public.

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