Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.08.02] -- During the same year that Elizabeth Windsor was named Queen of England and the polio vaccine was discovered, "Sleeping Beauty" opened on Magic Circle's stage in 1952 - marking the debut of the Tufts summer theater program. While a great deal has changed over the 50 years that have passed since the program was founded, the basic principles that have made Tufts' Magic Circle program so unique remain rock solid.
"They're having the same fun with creative exploration that was the theater's mission back when it started," Sherwood "Doc" Collins - a former chair of Tufts' Drama Department - told The Boston Globe. "What makes Magic Circle special is that it is the oldest continuously operating drama program for children and by children in the country."
Designed to give children a chance to shine on and off the stage, Tufts' Magic Circle has earned a reputation as a creative haven for kids.
"The summer program is the heart of Magic Circle, and 63 campers from ages 11 to 15 participate in six weeks of daylong theater development workshops, culminating in five or six performances," reported the Globe. "In addition to acting classes, the kids have the option to explore other skills like costume design and set construction."
For many of the campers, the summer program is a welcome change from their more traditional - and sometimes less creative - school environments.
"What theater does that is different from academics is provide a vehicle for drawing out the creative, for empowering kids with their own ideas," Tufts drama lecturer Luke Jorgensen told the Globe. "One of the biggest compliments I get from kids is that Magic Circle isn't like school."
For 12-year-old camper Becca Savoy, having the freedom to shape her part as fairy godmother in this summer's production of "Sleeping Beauty" was a high point of her experience.
"Everyone knows the story, so our point in working out the script was coming up with ideas that were unusual," Savoy told the newspaper. "We decided that since I was the smallest and sort of the odd one out, everything about my character should be different. The other three godmothers' names start with P, Petunia, Patience, and Penelope, but I'm Shrimpetta because I am little, sarcastic and loud."
Some of Magic Circle's "alumni" have used their experiences in the camp to develop new theater programs for kids.
Kidstock Creative Theater Education Center - which attracts thousands of kids to its arts programs - was founded by Brian Milauskas, who attended Magic Circle as a fifth grader.
"That's when I fell in love with theater," he told the Globe.
Milauskas became heavily involved in theater in middle and high school and as an undergraduate at Tufts. He even worked as a director for Magic Circle while in college.
"After graduating from Tufts with an English degree, he taught public school for a year and worked as a freelance director and designer throughout the Boston area," reported the Globe. "Dismayed by the scarcity of opportunities for youth to 'channel their creativity' outside competitive auditions, he founded Kidstock in 1992."
Shaped in part by Milauskas' experiences in Magic Circle, Kidstock doesn't shine the spotlight on just one or two "stars."
"Kidstock's mission, according to Milauskas, is to empower kids while fostering a team-oriented approach to the arts where costumes, scenery, lighting and other technical production elements are given the same attention as acting," reported the newspaper. "Most important, he said, are the skills students develop in public speaking, creative problem solving and imaginative thinking that remains long after the production ended."
Every role is important, he says.
"Everybody here is a piece of the puzzle, and it doesn't matter if you're in the corner, border, or middle as long as you're one of the piece," the Tufts graduate told the Globe. "Everyone comes together, learns from one another, and works cooperatively as a whole."
Now 10 years old, Milauskas' program has become extremely popular, attracting 1,500 children between preschool and eighth grade.
"It's my way of giving back," he said. "But it's also a lot of fun."