Camp Madhatters grows many levels of performers

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The 18th annual Central Minnesota Camp Madhatter set up shop in the FEMA gym at the Wadena-Deer Creek Middle/High School for the last two weeks.

Campers shared their experiences over many years of attendance in the event, which they said was like nothing else.

"It's always something new," according to Alex Gould who has been coming to camp for 10 years. "There's no other camp like this one that I can think of."

A roster of 34 campers, 17 for each of the two age groups came out to the camp taking in instruction from artistic director Robin Jensen, Justin Edin, Jessica Southwell and Nikki Paskewitz.

The show titled "Little Shop of Campers," includes scenes from "Little Shop of Horrors," "Secret Garden," and "Annie."

Brynn Bestland, a 10-year-old, played Annie in the performance. This was Brynn's second year in the camp and she said this year's performance was more difficult as there was more dancing, more scenes and more singing. But she said this type of camp is important to have in the summer to help kids get off their electronics and express themselves through theater. It was something she said they could be proud of.

Zoie Anderson, 12, was also in her second year involved in the camp and said camp was great because you could see everything come together over the two weeks into a great performance.

Gould, 18 was in his last year and commented how the group was one big family.

"When you get on the stage, everyone there has your back," he said.

Executive director Deb Fitzsimmons said when she got involved in 1997, there wasn't anything like this available. Artistic director Robin Jensen said those early years were vastly different than today. Early on, many kids were not comfortable singing or dancing, she noted. But after a few years, the confidence soared. Boys who wouldn't sing or dance were now young men, singing and dancing—and enjoying it. Having those veterans showing their confidence was a boost to the younger campers.

While the camp is only a couple weeks of summer, Fitzsimmons keeps in contact with the campers, encouraging them during the year.

What sets the camp apart, Jensen said, is that if the kids want to sing, they will sing. There is no auditioning for a spot. If they want to sing a solo, they will.

The performance took place Aug. 3.