Children audition, rehearse, memorize, improve, dance sing and perform at the Xanadu Performing Arts Company’s Summer Theater Camp, which takes place from Monday, July 28 through Friday, August 8, culminating in a live performance.
Jordan Mercer, 23, and Taryn Jacob, 24, founded Xanadu in spring 2013, but they said the idea of giving all children the opportunity to perform had been developing long before. They had been traveling with the circus for about a year, but seeked something more rewarding when they passed through Crested Butte, Colo., on their way to perform in Las Vegas.
They both grew up acting and dancing, which is Jacob’s specialty, having been a ballet dancer and actress in Kansas City and Topeka, Kan.
Mercer also has some onstage experience, but she excels behind the scenes, having won several awards for her painting.
Crested Butte didn’t have a children’s theater, but Mercer and Jacob, who grew up in a small town that only offered team sports and had her mother drive her to larger cities to participate in dance and theater, wanted the town’s youth to have more options besides team or adventure sports.
“I have watched so many children who are not in to extreme sports … take to performing arts in the past year,” Jacob said. “It’s like they finally found their ‘thing.’”
Mercer said the thought of going back home to Kansas was terrifying and a long-time “Crested Buttian” had said to make in such an expensive town, you’ve got to start your own business.
“When Taryn and I first started the business it was much easier than we had expected,” Mercer said. “We just started a camp. We scheduled it and marketed, and before we knew it, we had a Xanadu following. We have some kids that have done every single camp in Crested Butte and wouldn’t miss one for the world. Right now our upcoming camp in August is completely full with 35 kids and has a waiting list. When Taryn and I first meet parents, they think that we are probably the camp counselors. They are initially confused when we tell them that we own the business.”
The name Xanadu means an idyllic, unique, exotic or luxurious place, Mercer said, and the company’s logo is an endless knot symbol which essentially means an interwinding path.
“This is what we hope to offer to our Xanadu kids, a place for them to come that is happiness and perfect, while also a place that leads them on a successful, growing path,” Mercer said. “For me, Xanadu is so much more than I could ever put in words. It’s seeing the youngest or shyest of kids light up on stage for the first time. It’s watching their speech improve over a two-week period from reading aloud and memorizing new words and their meanings. At the end of a show I am always so overwhelmed with joy and so proud of these kids. They work so hard and it totally pays off when they get their chance in the spotlight.”
Mercer and Jacob began traveling after a few surrounding towns reached out to them, Jacob said.
Xanadu has expanded to Gunnison, Paonia, Carbondale and Winter Park in Colorado, while also traveling to Moab. Mercer said they choose places they take Xanadu based on where they enjoy traveling themselves. Mercer also said they tend to take the traveling theater company to towns that either lack children’s performing arts, or have a strong art scene, such as Moab’s. Their goal in the future is to travel year-round with the program.
Xanadu, unlike most children’s theater programs nationwide, pledges that every child will have a speaking role. Mercer and Jacob write the scripts themselves based on life experiences, famous movies and plays, and a combination of comedy, themes and morals.
The script at every camp changes based on the kids in the camp and their age and experience level.
“Sometimes Taryn and I will go home after the first day of camp and totally rewrite the scripts,” Mercer said. “We allow the kids to change up the songs to their liking, change their character’s name, and even rewrite lines to better connect with their character on stage.”
The scripts include dance numbers choreographed by Jacob, while Mercer designs the costumes and makeup and coaches the singing.
“Part of our mission with Xanadu is to allow children the opportunity to express themselves through live performance,” Mercer said. “Every Xanadu performance thus far has been the children’s show, not our show. They inspire, rehearse, advertise, design and perform it. They even help us write bits of it.”
Colleen Hegeman of Crested Butte said the Xanadu program instilled confidence in her 6-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. She said she is astonished at what the camps put together in their short time frame.
“Every script delivers an important moral message or life lesson and we are always amazed at what they put together,” Hegemen said. “In a community very focused on athletics, I love that there is also a performing arts option. Jordan and Taryn have a real gift and I think my kids will choose Xanadu every time it’s available for years to come.”
The camp is open to children ages 5 to 17 and takes place July 28 through August 8 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.. Tuition is $350 and covers costumes, props, scripts, make-up, hair, and the final performance. To register for the program, email Xanadu at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.xanaduperformingarts.com to print a registration form.
The live performance of “The Circus Freaks” is set to take place Friday August 8 at 6 p.m. at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North.
For questions, call Mercer at 785-220-9925 or Jacob at 785-220-0507.
“Every Xanadu performance thus far has been the children’s show, not our show. They inspire, rehearse, advertise, design and perform it. They even help us write bits of it.”
What: Xanadu Performing Arts Company’s Summer Theater Camp performance, “The Circus Freaks”
When: Friday, August 8, 6 p.m.
Where: Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North
The camp still has spaces available for children ages 5 to 17 and takes place July 28 through August 8 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.. Tuition is $350 and covers costumes, props, scripts, make-up, hair, and the final performance. To register visit www.xanaduperformingarts.com
Performing arts company offering children’s theater camp in Moab