Summer Scholars On Stage: a different summer camp


John Bateman of Starkville leads teens from across the Southeast through the writing process for an original musical comedy at Summer Scholars On Stage camp at Mississippi State.

John Bateman of Starkville leads teens from across the Southeast through the writing process for an original musical comedy at Summer Scholars On Stage camp at Mississippi State. Photo by: Courtesy photo


Jan Swoope



Mention of summer camp often evokes visions of swimming, zip lining or s'mores. At Mississippi State's Summer Scholars On Stage, however, the emphasis is on writing, music, acting and production during three intensely creative weeks. Almost 60 gifted and talented teens who have completed seventh through 12th grade, from across the Southeast and beyond, have teamed with playwrights, choreographers, musicians, drama teachers, counselors and technical theater staff to write, stage and produce "The Pitch."  


The original three-act musical comedy will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday, July 19 and at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 20 at McComas Hall on the MSU campus. With 58 people, the entire free performance will take approximately two and one-half to three hours, with intermissions between each act. The event is appropriate for all ages.  


The musical focuses on three book pitches with very different motifs, said Joe R. Underwood, director of Summer Scholars and MSU professor emeritus of Counseling and Educational Psychology. Going from blank page to full production in three weeks is a major undertaking.  


"It's a mad dash to start with absolutely nothing, brainstorm ideas, come up with a theme, get a story, develop a logo to represent the story, audition, go to classes in drama, music and dance and then, starting Sunday night, we'll be in the theater going through it, then go live Friday and Saturday," Underwood said.  


"I think it's cool how we write a play from just an idea or two, and we make it come to life," said participant Hunter Rheinfrank, 15, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His own mother attended the camp in the 1980s. Later, she helped coordinate part of its writing component; she has since gone on to write an off-Broadway show, noted Underwood.  




Scripts, music 


Summer Scholars On Stage began June 30 with Week One's Writer's Camp, which focused on creating scripts and songs for the production.  


A two-week Production Camp that began July 6 saw participants developing their talents in music, dance and drama in the first week, and immersed in rehearsals and final production the second week.  


Recent high school graduate Anna Pierce of Columbus is attending Summer Scholars for a third year. She plans to major in music and minor in theater in college. This summer, she's studied lighting, sound and set-building. She will also perform in "The Pitch." 


"I like the combination of learning more about the arts while also getting to know other people in a way that I haven't done in any other camp," said the 17-year-old who hopes to return to camp in future as a staff member.  


Anthony Kirkland, 13, is there for the first time. The musical theater fan and is learning all he can about singing, dancing and acting. 


"In the production, I'm playing a grandpa, and he has some very funny lines," the Starkville Middle School student said. Meeting so many people from other cities and states has been a big plus, he added.  


Camp participants have access to expertise from many professionals. Playwright T. Kris Lee from The W's Creative Writing program is production director. Cody Stockstill, director of the Theatre Program at MSU, teaches set-building. John Bateman, executive director of the Starkville Area Arts Council, is writing director.  


"We've also got a principal, drama teachers, counselors, professional musicians and more that are all trying to mentor these kids," said Underwood. "We have a lot of good role models trying to help young people to be better, try hard and expand their vision of what they want to be. It's a fun thing to work with all these kids; that's what has kept me going 10 years after I've retired." 


Summer Scholars On Stage, sponsored in part by a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission, is also made possible by additional sponsors and donors. 


For more information about the camp, visit


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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