There is high drama at Germantown Friends School this summer with the introduction of two new theater camps. On stage, third- through sixth-grade students are performing plays they have written, produced and directed themselves in an improv Acting Camp; backstage, high-school students are designing and building sets that will be used in a professional production in Summer Backstage Theater Tech Camp.
Three GFS lifers and graduates of the Class of 2014, Conor Biddle, Matthew Fichandler and Pedro Ramos, are running the Acting Camp under the guidance of GFS Drama Department Head Lisa Burns. The comedic trio, who make up the group Thrice, have earned acclaim throughout their high-school tenure at GFS for their four original plays, dozens of comedic sketches and multiple short films they have performed in and produced together.
“We are all extremely passionate actors, so we decided that we wanted to pass down this passion to the younger students at our school … and to build on the excitement that begins in the Lower School around class productions by teaching aspiring young actors some additional methods of the art form,” they said in the advertising materials for the camp.
Each day, campers practice improv, comedic timing and character development as well as develop an idea for a short play that they write, rehearse and then perform on the last day of camp. The campers had a blast exploring their comedic and dramatic sides and exercising their imaginations.
The counselors seemed to have as much fun as the campers. Fichandler, Biddle and Ramos run the camp as seamlessly as they do everything – including finishing each other’s sentences.
“We are almost always on the same page,” Fichandler said. “Maybe it’s because we all grew up at GFS,” Biddle added. “We share the same passions,” Ramos noted.
Is there any artistic tension in the group?
“If there is ever tension, it’s funny tension,” Biddle said. “We laugh at tension,” Ramos agreed. “It just works itself out,” Fichandler added.
Even though they are heading to college in the fall—Biddle to Emerson, Fichandler to Wesleyan and Ramos to the College of William and Mary – this is not the end of Thrice.
“This is not even a hiatus,” Ramos said. “We will be working together while we are in college.”
“Our goal is to create, direct and star in our own TV show. It sounds far-fetched, but we don’t care,” Biddle said. Ramos added: “There is no reason to limit yourself before you know your limits.”
In addition to these ambitious plans, the trio hopes to run their Acting Camp at GFS again next summer.
“Their way of communicating, collaborating and creating together is non-judgmental, in the moment and imaginatively inspired,” Burns said. “For our campers, the Thrice work to keep us spontaneous in a real, playful and respectful way.”
Across campus, GFS Technical Theater Director Michael Kerns is working with a group of Upper School students, designing and constructing a set for the production of Xanadu at the Christ Church Neighborhood House Theater in Center City.
The students design the set, build it, and then transport it to the theater – where it is constructed, painted, adorned with props and professionally lit. They will see the work through to the show’s opening day.
“It’s unusual for students who are still in high school to get the opportunity to build and install a set for a full-scale musical theater production,” Kerns said.
“There are so many exciting things going on in drama at GFS this summer,” Burns added. “It is wonderful to see students using the summer months to develop their skills in the dramatic arts.”