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THEATER CAMP: A Masterclass in Collaborative Comedy from Sundance

Updated: Mar 8

The latest comedy hit out of Sundance is none other than Theater Camp, the directorial debut from Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, backed by fellow lifelong theater kids and emerging stars of screen, Noah Galvin and Ben Platt. The film is about a struggling theater camp in upstate New York, The AdirondActs, whose future lies in the balance after their founder (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma, leaving her bumbling son (Jimmy Tatro) and a rag-tag group of drama teachers to pull everything together. Led by the chemistry–filled duo of Gordon and Platt, this film is about finding fulfillment in the wake of talent and ego. Filmed in a “mockumentary” style, this film owes a lot to the likes of Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind) and Mitch Hurwitz (Arrested Development), but is filled with plenty of contemporary humor. Similarly to the previously named works, this film’s biggest strength is by far its self-awareness. It would be easy for lifelong performances to be unamused by the classic “theater kid” quirks and stereotypes leading them to provide a biased and potentially trite look at the institution, but Gordon and Lieberman decide to lean into the awkwardness and deliver fantastic satire without compromising the emotional core of the film.

Theater Camp stands on the backs of its unbelievable ensemble cast led by the amazing Gordon and Platt, the latter of which expertly leans into his status as Hollywood’s resident theater kid. While the leads are delightful, it’s the supporting characters backing it up that keeps the heart beating and the laughs flowing. The aforementioned Tatro (American Vandal), the remarkable Ayo Edebiri (The Bear), and the incredible Patti Harrison (Come Together, I Think You Should Leave) all manage to bring something special to this film, but the real star that emerges is Noah Galvin. Galvin, who showed the world his theatrical talents with an unforgettable turn as George in 2019’s Booksmart, is a part of the core team behind this film and completely steals the show as Glenn, the repressed stage manager with dreams of the bright lights. Think Michael Hitchcock’s character from Waiting for Guffman but with way more self-respect. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the great bit role from the young Minari star, Alan Kim, who provides some excellent comedic flair as an aspiring talent manager. Stereotypes like these could get stale quick, but the writers manage to give them a fresh spin and really elevate this satire to a lofty height.

At the end of the day, the most memorable parts of this movie are its productions. Crucially, Gordon and Lieberman make sure that the focus is always on the performing youngsters. As they sing some great original music numbers, we are constantly reminded of the unbelievable talent that can be found in programs like theater camps, which serve as a vital creative outlet. I will say, I never went to theater camp, but I was in the school musical every year from kindergarten through 12th grade, and I can tell you that being in a place where you are completely free to express yourself through art and through character is not only rare, but deeply important. At times, theater is thought of as a refuge for socially marginalized youth. While it often is, it can also be a place where, as Theater Camp highlights, dreams are born. The theater is where students are able to think beyond their circumstances and status, and work together to put forth a piece of art all in the name of spreading joy. This film’s existence is living proof of the power of collaboration and creativity, and why places like theater camps are integral to the advancement of the art form.

Theater Camp premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and is awaiting distribution.

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