From time to time, Suburban Mom and NJ Kids like to introduce you to one of our friends – and hopefully together we can learn about some of the great programs offered throughout our state. Today: Mary Ann Riel and The Summer Theatre Camp of Montclair. So many of our youngsters are smitten by the theater, so we thought it’d be a great for you to get to know one of the great women who are working with our kids and helping them learn and grow in the world of acting and theater.

Suburban Mom: What is your name and title?

Mary Ann Riel: My name is Mary Ann Riel and I am the Artistic Director of The Summer Theatre Camp of Montclair conducted by A Midsummer's Dreaming Theatre Company,

SM: Tell me a little about your background.

MR: My background is as a Theater Educator. I have a Master Degree in Speech and Theater and I am a certified N.J. Drama Teacher with over 25 years of teaching experience, as well as professional theater and film credits.

SM: How did you come up with this idea for the Midsummer’s Dreaming Theater Company?

MR: A Midsummer’s Dreaming Theatre Company is an educational theatre company wholly dedicated to the joyful and excellent training of the young performer.  It is really a culmination of my life’s experiences – starting from when I was young.

I was born into a wonderful family where the emphasis was on sports. While I learned many valuable lessons from sports, as a young developing, hopeful theatre artist, I longed to be supported by knowledgeable, caring, intuitive, fun folks who would inspire me to perform with strength and courage and who would give me the gift of their hard-won life skills. Little did I realize when I was young, that I was writing my own job description! Out of my own life and theater experiences, I support and guide young performing artists to their own strengths and unique talents whilst giving them a reality check on the business of show business so that they have the tools to make good professional and life decisions.

SM: What types of classes do you offer?

MR: We offer a variety of summer programs for all ages, as well as school year classes. We also offer private coaching for college bound students who want to compete for the highly competitive B.F.A. Acting Program slots. We have a great track record of helping great people find their professional and education niches.

SM: Why do you think it is important to introduce kids to the world of theater?

MR: The life skills and sheer joy of expression gained in an ethical and well-designed theater program are too numerous to list, but I think some of the more important skills gained are vocal and physical expression, making one more dynamic and more engaged, plus the ability to work with many different sorts of people and realizing that everyone, even some of those you might least suspect, may have large and unique gifts to offer a theater project.

Also, the courage to jump outside of one’s comfort zone and to learn through appropriate emotional risk-taking is so important, as well as understanding the joy of creativity. No matter how old or young, to find and express the truth of our humanity in broad and nuanced ways goes to the core of our being, for, as humans, we learn through mimicry. That mimicry, developed and honed, can develop compassion...and compassion is the salvation of our world.

SM: Talk about summer camp – explain what you offer and how it works. MR: Our camps are a blast! We have different programs of varying lengths for most age levels. We start our day with gentle and fun yoga, proceed into singing training, with dance, movement and choreography. A chatty and friendship-forming lunch follows. Then improvisation, theatre games and rehearsal follow. Of course, each program is designed to offer age appropriate challenges. We have full and half-day programs--and some that feature a trip to a Broadway Musical. (This year we are seeing Wicked - Yay!)

SM:  Do you offer any classes or camps for Special Needs kids?

MR: According to the need, we may be able to accommodate within the realm of our programs. Parents should definitely call me to discuss their needs.

SM: How does theater help with confidence and self-esteem?

MR: Just by the very act of committing to a summer camp, even if one is fearful, is committing to your belief in your self, to your creativity, to your goals. If you are in a camp such as The Summer Theatre Camp of Montclair that is designed to inspire, as well as teach, you will be supported in learning new skills. In learning those skills and being acknowledged by your instructors, assistants and new found friends for the leaps you have made--how can you walk away without confidence? Our experience is that our camp participants have the time of their lives because this project is all about them in a very affirming, positive way, as opposed to a drama-queenish way that, in the end, is not very fulfilling. When one accomplishes individually and within a group, one truly grows and feels the profundity of that growth.

SM: Are there any fun ‘theater’ at-home activities families can do together? MR: Oh, so many! Here is a quick one: stand in a circle and designate a beginning player. This game is done physically with sound effects but no words at all! The beginning player “passes” an “energy” to the player in the circle next to him or her. That player must receive the energy in the manner it was passed. (Don’t over think this--just do it--it’s fun!) When one receives the energy, whether it is fast or slow, heavy or light, gooey or smooth, one can choose to change the energy that he or she is passing to the fellow to his or her right. Allow this to develop, remain wordless, and watch the magical manifestations occur--right out of everyone’s imagination. Very powerful!

SM: What’s the best way to prepare a child to see a theater performance?

MR: Every performance is different and requires its own preparation. A parent always give a little general overview regarding the difference between live theater and viewing a film or TV program at home and engaging in a discussion of how it is important for everyone to be a compassionate and polite audience member, so that the performers and other audience members are not distracted by unnecessary talk or noise. Ask your child how he or she plans to be that sort of excellent audience member who will be a model for others around him or her.

Also, set the tone for the particular play and discuss the story line and plot so that a child or tween or, even teen, understands the nature of the production they are about to see. Obviously, some productions are not suited to certain age groups. The Diary of Anne Frank is appropriate for certain age groups and not for others. The Phantom of the Opera, whilst exciting, can be frightening to certain children. Knowing your child’s temperament, interests and degree of focus is key to preparing him or her for any live play.


SM: Talk a little bit about being a woman and being a business owner – is this is the first business you have owned? How do you balance work and family?

MR: I love running a business that has at its core my primary interests and loves: theater and teaching!

I, very briefly, began and ran an extremely successful decorating business because I love color and furnishings and window treatments, but it couldn’t hold me. Theater persistently called to me like a siren to sailors and I had to respond. I pursued and attained my Master’s Degree in Speech and Theater at Montclair State University, was graduated with honors, taught at the university for 7 years whilst concurrently creating A Midsummer’s Dreaming Theatre Company, a theatrical training program dedicated to the joyful and excellent training of the young performer. The company runs The Summer Theatre Camp of Montclair.

I have been more than blessed and privileged to use my gifts to guide and inspire young performers to believe in themselves and to acquire the skills to follow their dreams.

My husband, who is an attorney, myself and our little doggie, Bianca (the true drama queen in our family) are always seeking balance, because we all high-powered and driven and love what we do!

Click here for more information on The Summer Theatre Camp of Montclair

67 Church Street, Montclair, New Jersey 07042 / (973) 746-8686