EDISON – For Nicholas Barskiy, Theater Camp at Middlesex County College (MCC) busted him out of his shy fourth-grade shell.
Now he is 16 and serves as a camp counselor. Overall, Barskiy, of Edison, said he enjoyed his time during camp.
“It was fun, a lot of great energy, and it boosted my self-esteem,” he said, adding now that he is older, he wanted to give back and help encourage and boost the self-esteem of others.
Theater Camp, led by Michael Taubenslag, is back for its 30th season for teens and children entering first grade through 16 years old. It began on June 24 and runs through Aug. 16 with seven performances on the main stage of the Performing Arts Center on the MCC campus, plus two performances from the camp’s “Teen Scenes” for children in grades 8-10. Taubenslag’s son Adam leads the “Teen Scenes” part of the camp.
The camp also offers a tech option. Tech campers paint scenery, organize props, and sew and design costumes. During performances, tech campers function as the stage crew, making sure that sets, scenery, props and costumes are in place.
The camp is supervised by New Jersey teachers with combined experience of more than 40 years in teaching and children’s theater. Most of the camp counselors, like Barskiy, were campers themselves.
It was 30 years ago when Taubenslag spent a summer filling his dad, Elliot Taubenslag’s, shoes. The elder Taubenslag, who passed away in 2018 at age 88, founded and directed the nationally recognized and award-winning East Brunswick Children’s Summer Theater Program for 50 years.
“My father had suffered a heart attack and at the time I was trying to be an actor,” the younger Taubenslag said, explaining that he had the intention of filling in for one summer and that was it. “I ended up loving it. The older I get, it has become more rewarding seeing the kids break out of their shells.”
Taubenslag said every week they give out Bravo awards highlighting the actors blossoming.
The younger Taubenslag said he enjoyed learning from his talented father. The elder Taubenslag’s passion for theater and performance led him to write and produce off-Broadway productions in New York City, including the award-winning “My Name Is Alice,” according to a proclamation he received in 2018.
In 2018, East Brunswick officials renamed the East Brunswick Community Arts Theater the Elliot Taubenslag Theater after the national and state renowned teacher and drama coach and mentor to thousands of students during his career.
His impact on his students and performers was so profound that he was the subject of a film documentary, “My Mentor, the Amazing Mr. T,” and his methods inspired many writers, performers and producers in the theater and film industry today, including an Emmy Award winner, a Grammy Award winner and a Tony-nominated lyricist, according to the proclamation.
Each Theater Camp week produces a different show, which included “The Pied Piper’s Wild West Show” on June 28; Theater Camp Variety Show on July 5; “The Prince and The Pauper” on July 19; “Pinocchio” on July 19; “The Pearl of the Fire God” on July 26; “The Wizard of Oz” on Aug. 2; and The Broadway Spectacular on Aug. 16.
“We rehearse Monday through Thursday mornings,” Taubenslag said.
After a lunch break, afternoons are filled with camp activities, including swimming, scavenger hunts, tie dye, charades, sing down, relay races, carnival, Mardi Gras, outdoor games, arts and crafts, theatrical workshops and dances.
For full session campers it includes trips to see Broadway shows in New York City.
For the “Pinocchio” show, Megan Costello, 12, of the Sewaren section of Woodbridge Township, Ronak Agarwal, 8, of Monroe, and Lamaq Dahodwala, 10, of the Colonia section of Woodbridge Township, were working hard to transform into their respective roles – Gurdi, Pinocchio and Homer.
Megan, who is in her sixth year of theater camp, described the Gurdi character as loud and mean, who corrals the boys to join their gang. She said she likes how theater camp tries to include everybody in the show and everyone tries to make each other better.
Ronak, who is in his third year of theater camp, said getting the Pinocchio role – the first big role in his time at camp – was exciting as well as scary thinking about messing up his lines.
Lamaq, who is in his first year of theater camp, said he is enjoying his positive experience and the kindness of everyone at camp.
For more information, visit www.taubenslagproductions.com/programs/theater-camp.
For its 25th anniversary, the theater camp had been honored by the New Jersey Senate, General Assembly and County Freeholders for Artistic Excellence and for more than 25 years of service to children in Middlesex County.