Lynda Olson’s children love musical theater. The nearest theater group they could take part in was in Johnstown, and shuttling an hour each way from their home in Somerset County became too tough on the family’s schedule.
Lynda decided to create a theater group closer to home. She added to it a dose of faith, and the Potter’s Players were born.
“The camp is faith based, so we start each day with 30 minutes of Bible study. The rest of the time we spend working on the production.” says Lynda. “We encourage the kids to use their faith, as well as prayer, as a guideline and a help for everything they are doing during the week of camp, in how they interact with and treat each other, in how they deal with stressful situations or tasks, in helping each other with whatever needs to be done for a successful production.”
That approach is working. Last summer, the group started out with 13 kids. This year, it’s more than twice that. Lynda collaborates with local churches for props, costumes, and space for gatherings and rehearsals. Camp is open to children in the whole community.
“The kids really love it. They’re very into it.”
As the camp has grown, so has the need for funding. Lynda decided to partner with the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to establish the The Potter’s Players Fund so the Potter’s Players could qualify as a nonprofit. That’s a big help in fundraising.
According to Lynda, “It was going to be difficult to get 501c3 status, and we wanted to be able to accept donations and make it tax deductible. This (partnership) might have been the difference between us doing something or not doing something.”
Campers range in age from incoming 2nd graders to 9th graders. Right now, the musical theater camp is one week of intensive practice and preparation for the main event: a performance at the former Sipesville Elementary School, which is now the Rainbow Connections Learning Center. This year’s production is Fiddler on the Roof, Junior.
They’re working on a shoestring budget, with an all-volunteer crew; Lynda, her husband, Mike and Amy Beech, and a few parents. Mike has a theater background and lends his expertise as creative director and acting coach. What they lack in resources, they make up for in enthusiasm and ingenuity.
It all pays off when the young actors take the stage in front of a live audience.
“For them, it’s just wonderful to have people in the seats and to have people appreciate what they’ve done and what they’ve learned.”
The undertaking is about more than applause. Linda hopes, eventually, the group can expand to include more productions throughout the year, and host more, different, events that bring together other parts of the community. Last summer, the group got together for movie night. Organizers would like to have more get-togethers like that.
“We’d like to see it not only be a theater camp for the kids, but a support for the kids.”
The Potter’s Players would also like to offer scholarships to children who can’t afford the fee to participate. If it keeps growing at the same rate, that goal shouldn’t be far off.
One mom who just wanted to support and encourage her children’s love of musical theater has put together a program that’s helping children throughout Somerset County.
“Fiddler on the Roof, Junior” runs July 14 and 15 at 7 p.m., at the former Sipesville Elementary School, currently the Rainbow Connection Learning Center and The Dance Factory. Tickets will be sold at the door.