What do Natalie Portman, Robert Downey, Jr., Zach Braff, and Mandy
Moore have in common? Before they were stars, they were campers at
Stagedoor Manor, the premier summer theater camp for children and
teenagers. Founded in 1975, Stagedoor continues to attract scores
of young performers eager to find kindred spirits, to sing out
loud, to become working actors-or maybe even stars. Every summer
for the past thirty-five years, a new crop of campers has come to
the Catskills for an intense, often wrenching introduction to
professional theater. (The camp produces thirteen full-scale
productions during each of its three sessions.) These kids come
from varying backgrounds-the offspring of Hollywood players from
Nora Ephron to Bruce Willis work alongside kids on scholarship.
Some campers have agents, others are seeking representation. When
Mickey Rapkin, a senior editor at GQ and self-proclaimed theater
fanatic, learned about this place, he fled Manhattan for an escape
to upstate New York. At Stagedoor, he tracked a trio of especially
talented and determined teen actors through their final session at
camp. Enter Rachael Singer, Brian Muller, and Harry Katzman, three
high school seniors closing out their sometimes sheltered Stagedoor
experiences and graduating into the real world of industry
competition and rejection. These veteran campers-still battling
childhood insecurities, but simultaneously searching for that
professional gig that will catapult them to fame-pour their souls
into what might be their last amateur shows. Their riveting stories
are told in Theater Geek, an eye-opening, laugh-out-loud chronicle
full of drama and heart, but also about the business of training
kids to be professional thespians and, in some cases, child stars.
(The camp has long acted as a farm system for Broadway and
Hollywood, attracting visits from studio executives and casting
directors.) Via original interviews with former and current campers
and staff-including Mandy Moore, Zach Braff, and Jon Cryer-Rapkin
also recounts Stagedoor Manor's colorful, star-studded history:
What was Natalie Portman's breakout role as a camper? What big-time
Hollywood director, then barely a teenager, dated a much older
Stagedoor staff member? Why did Courtney Love (at Stagedoor
visiting her daughter) get into an argument with a hot dog vendor
who had set up shop at the camp? Theater Geek leads readers through
the triumphs and tragedies of the three senior campers' final
summer in an absorbing, thought-provoking narrative that reveals
the dynamic and inspiring human beings who populate this world. It
also explores what the proliferation of theater camps says about
our celebrity-obsessed youth and our most basic but vital need to
fit in. Through the rivalry, heartbreak, and joy of one summer at
Stagedoor Manor, Rapkin offers theater geeks of all ages a dishy,
illuminating romp through the lives of serious child actors. Rich,
insightful, and thoroughly entertaining, Theater Geek pulls back
the curtain on an elite and intriguing world to reveal what's
really at its core: children who simply love to perform.
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