Ritz Theatre Summer Camp celebrates 20 years with reunion (some participants always attend)

PHOTO SUBMITTED Pictured are (back row, from left) Jean Alcala, Jason Richie, Grady Richie, Ian Richie, Leo Brown, Darr Brown and Rogan Campbell; and (front row, from left) Lillie Richie, Antonia Alcala, Diane Darr, Dana Alcala, Cailynn Campbell.

From portraying pumpkins to tarantulas, toy soldiers, seagulls, bees, wallabirds, penguins, mushrooms and even skunks, children from two families have spent the past 15 years participating in The Ritz Theatre Summer Camps.

The Ritz Theatre Summer Camp is celebrating 20 years this year — featuring the play “Robin Hood.”

Diane Darr and Jean Alcala, both of Clyde, have brought their sons, daughters and grandchildren to the summer camp.

Alcala said she started participating in the camps with her family 15 years ago when a friend invited her to come, and she has been back ever since.

Alcala then introduced the camps to Darr and she began bringing her family members in 2012, and since then it has been a “family affair.”

Alcala said she herself doesn’t have any family members in the camp but still participates as a volunteer.

“I live through them,” Alcala said.

The oldest of the children, Alcala said, even come to watch the performances.

Alcala and Darr said they work full-time jobs and take their vacations each June to participate in the camp.

“It is for the kids,” Darr said. “I enjoy watching them and they all have a love of the theatre.”

Darr said she especially enjoys the children’s workshops The Ritz puts together for the children.

Alcala, who volunteers with one of the youngest groups, said the workshops are great to keep the children occupied while the others rehearse on stage.

“The (yellow group) is on stage only a short time and the workshops keep them interested in other activities,” Alcala said.

Darr started out as a leader and now is helping with coordinating the camps week one and week two. Siri Wintersteen is the chair of week two of the summer camp.

Each Alcala and Darr have had 10 children involved in the camps. This year, Darr has six of her grandsons participating.

Dianne Pytel, education director at The Ritz, said the camps always have had several families continue to participate over the years.

“The continuity is just astounding to me,” Pytel said.

This year, Pytel said The Ritz will have six seniors graduating out of the camps from week one and week two.

Pytel said what makes her proud is the environment The Ritz provides that allows the children participating in the camps to feel safe to express themselves without any intimidation and to show their talents.

Alcala said she always is amazed at how the camps are able to pull the children out of their shells and how they all support one another.

Over the years, Alcala and Darr have enjoyed the plays that have “catchy songs.”

Pytel said she enjoys performances that allow older children to have larger parts in the production. The company Missoula Children’s Theatre often has revised the play to allow that, she said.

“This is a 20-year partnership with Missoula,” Pytel said. “They are always so impressed with how talented our kids are.”

This year, Pytel said the list of cities children have arrived from has grown.

“(The camp) is bigger than Tiffin this week,” Pytel said.

Children come from Van Burren, Vermilion, Cincinnati, Columbus, Grand Rapids, even Michigan — along with Seneca County and surrounding areas.

Alcala and Darr plan to keep coming back to camp with their families.