The final curtain call for longtime youth theater director

  • After 17 years of leading the Union Congregational Church’s youth summer theater camp program, Mary Ann Fleming will direct her final two shows this weekend. But before calling it a career, the longtime director has been working hard with her students on the show. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • After 17 years of leading the Union Congregational Church's youth summer theater camp program, Mary Ann Fleming will direct her final two shows, 'P.T. The Greatest Showman on Earth' this weekend. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • After 17 years of leading the Union Congregational Church's youth summer theater camp program, Mary Ann Fleming will direct her final two shows, 'P.T. The Greatest Showman on Earth' this weekend. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • After 17 years of leading the Union Congregational Church's youth summer theater camp program, Mary Ann Fleming will direct her final two shows, 'P.T. The Greatest Showman on Earth' this weekend. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • After 17 years of leading the Union Congregational Church's youth summer theater camp program, Mary Ann Fleming will direct her final two shows, 'P.T. The Greatest Showman on Earth' this weekend. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • After 17 years of leading the Union Congregational Church's youth summer theater camp program, Mary Ann Fleming will direct her final two shows, 'P.T. The Greatest Showman on Earth' this weekend. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • After 17 years of leading the Union Congregational Church's youth summer theater camp program, Mary Ann Fleming will direct her final two shows, 'P.T. The Greatest Showman on Earth' this weekend. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • After 17 years of leading the Union Congregational Church's youth summer theater camp program, Mary Ann Fleming will direct her final two shows, 'P.T. The Greatest Showman on Earth' this weekend. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • After 17 years of leading the Union Congregational Church's youth summer theater camp program, Mary Ann Fleming will direct her final two shows, 'P.T. The Greatest Showman on Earth' this weekend. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • After 17 years of leading the Union Congregational Church's youth summer theater camp program, Mary Ann Fleming will direct her final two shows, 'P.T. The Greatest Showman on Earth' this weekend. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/12/2019 8:33:03 AM

Mary Ann Fleming has been soaking all it in these last two weeks. Because after 17 years as the do-it-all director for the Union Congregational Church’s youth summer theater camp in Peterborough, Fleming is closing the curtain on her summer job of teaching young children the finer points of being on stage.

“I love working with kids and I have a creative part in me that requires I do something fun,” Fleming said.

This weekend’s performances of “P.T. The Greatest Showman on Earth” will be Fleming’s last for the program that she began back in 2003. As of now, the plan is for this to be the last year of the youth theater camp – which isn’t too surprising considering the shoes that her successor would have to try and fill.

Not only does Fleming handle all the director duties, which isn’t all that easy considering she’s working with students in second through fifth grade, but she also is the piano accompanist. For this show, which she also put on in 2011, Fleming made all the flags as well as the cannon and Jumbo the elephant.

She has poured her heart and soul into this program for almost two decades, and while its not easy to walk away, Fleming knows it is time.

“I’m 65 and my body is beginning to tell me I can’t do the pace I used to,” she said. “It’s kind of bittersweet.”

She made the decision last year after wavering the previous couple years as to whether to step back, so when the final performance is over on Saturday, it will be different not having another show to start preparing for.

Working with the age group she does is challenging, but having only two weeks and nine rehearsals to teach all the songs and every move on stage makes it a whirlwind that has taken many years to master.

“Not everybody can teach that way, but for me it’s all in the details.,” Fleming said. “Giving these kids an experience they won’t get anywhere else at such a young age.”

Fleming enjoys the chaos and working with children who are embarking on their first acting experience. And of course she wants to put on a good show for the audiences who come to the two performances, but it’s more about the life lessons she’s trying to teach along the way.

“I think kids need to feel successful and confident when they’re in front of people,” Fleming said.

There are the shy kids who barely say a word when they walk in for the opening night of rehearsals who less than two weeks later will be up on stage saying their lines without a second thought in front of a large audience. The ones who years after being in the program have gone on to take part in their high school drama programs and beyond. Those are the things that she’ll remember the most.

On Monday night, just four days away from the first of two shows, the group was still learning song lyrics and where to stand on stage, but Fleming was calm in her approach because she always has a plan to get it all ready. She has to.

“It all blends together in a pot and I feel fortunate to mix it all together and make something happen,” Fleming said. “It’s thinking on the fly, creative problem solving really.”

Over the 17 years, the program has repeated shows, but it’s always different because the kids are new and the dynamics – and cast structure – can change on a moment’s notice.

“It’s amazing to learn one of these shows in so little time,” Fleming said. “It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time.”

Some of the participants join after working with Fleming in junior choir at the church, others come after older siblings have participated while the rest have been signed up by parents who heard about the program.

“I can have a family for four to six years or more depending on how many kids there are,” Fleming said.

Every group is different, which has made the last 17 summers fun, stressful and entertaining.

“You cross your fingers and say it’s the journey. Did they have a positive experience?” she said. “You just find ways to make them successful.”

Fleming has been playing the piano since the age of four because her mom “wanted me to be a concert pianist.” She has been a piano player ever since, but it was in college where she learned the nuances of producing a show. She took a backstage theater course at Colby Sawyer and was hooked.

Having a background in both has made things a little easier when rushing around trying to put together a show in less than two weeks, but all the training in the world can’t prepare her for what will invariably come up. But that’s part of the excitement that she’ll miss.

“She gets the kids to realize who they are as people and what they can do,” said Emily Foote, who has been Fleming’s stage manager for the last 12 years. “She just knows how to get them to be outgoing.”

Fleming also is the organist for Union Congregational Church as well as the junior and senior choir director. She is the Dean of the Monadnock Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and accompanies the Norway Pond Festival Singers and Junior Minstrels in Hancock and is going on tour with Monadnock Chorus when it travels to Canada Aug. 13-18 as part of its orchestra.

Fleming never envisioned the program lasting this long because she didn’t have a lot of expectations when she started it.

“We just put the seed out there 17 years ago,” she said. “Some years we’ve had more kids than others, but it’s been pretty good.”

In addition to the local students, the show will feature a few alumni of the theater camp and adult guests. Show times are Friday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 10 at 4 p.m. at Union Congregational Church. Admission is free with donations appreciated to support program expenses. 


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