Holly Fujii, 11, of Salem, takes down a stage light at North Salem High School as part of the Children's Educational Theatre summer camp on Wednesday, July 14. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Lily Schaefer is back in action this summer as Agent 18 in Children’s Educational Theater performance of the traveling show, “This is Hamlet.”

Missing out last summer due to Covid closures, Schaefer, a seventh grader at Oregon Charter Academy, had forgotten how it felt during casting.

“Auditions are a little scary, but once you get cast it’s really fun,” said Schaefer, who will be seen rolling around sideways on stage. “My character isn’t very good at their job assignment, and I get to do stage combat!”

Schaefer thought she’d like to try acting when she was about eight years old. Her mom found out about Children’s Educational Theatre and signed her up.

Asked what she likes most about the program, Shaefer said, “Making friends, the classes, and you learn new stuff. Everyone supports you. No one can make fun of you - it’s the CET way.”

The “CET way” is a culture that participants, staff and parents said makes the summer theater program work by creating a culture where kids aren’t afraid to take risks and try new things.

“There is a CET vibe or magic that exists,” said Executive Director Robert Salberg. “I truly think the institutional history of CET and the people we hire understand they have a certain quality to uphold.”

That culture was set early on by the groups founders when the theater debuted its first season in 1975. Its first Executive Director, Phyllis Quanbeck, had taught drama at South Salem High School and was approached by Pat McReal of McKinley Community School to put on summer plays in the 1970s.

According to the the history documented on their website, Quanbeck was adamant that she would only be involved if the program went beyond staging plays and offered an educational component and well-rounded theater arts experience.

Lily Schaefer, right, rehearses a tap dance as part of the Children's Educational Theatre summer camp on Wednesday, July 14. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Some of the earlier students included Bode Rosendahl’s mother, who had so much fun as a child that she encouraged him to sign up. Rosendahl performed his first show around age eight and is back this summer, taking courses on advanced acting, Broadway and singing.

Rosendahl said he's enjoyed the educational components along with rehearsing for the musical, “High School Musical Jr.” where he’ll star as Troy Bolten.

The program’s supportive atmosphere brings parent volunteer Ann Little back year after year.

“Every season starts with scared little kids, terrified at times to go up on that stage, but then they experience it doesn’t matter if it's perfect,” she said. “They are celebrated for who they are. They are welcomed no matter what. They can be themselves and are celebrated for who they are. That’s why I’ve been here for 14 years. It’s pretty special.”

2020 was the first year without Children’s Education Theatre as it had been traditionally offered. The staff and team instead posted learning videos on their YouTube channel. Families whose children had registered for the program for the 2020 season could get a refund, donate the cost or roll their registration forward

Salberg said about 60% of the families chose to donate or roll their registration forward which really helped their financial situation during a tough year.

Heading into 2021, Salberg worked with the various mandates and Salem-Keizer School District protocols to establish a path forward for an in-person program for the kids.

He hired teaching assistants, secured the plays and staff, and waited for the district to decide where the program would be, which requires twenty classrooms and at least two common areas large enough to teach stage combat and dance. By late spring he heard they’d be at North Salem High School, a space he’d not used before.

Students rehearse a song during the Children's Educational Theatre summer camp on Wednesday, July 14. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The five venues the program he’d relied on for performances were also unavailable. With the Salem Art Fair and Festival virtual again, two stages normally available during the event were gone. Remodeling at the Salem Public Library and South Salem High School meant no performances could be held at either location.

Salberg worked on securing a variety of potential options before he had all the venues finalized on June 30. Funding from the Oregon Community Foundation Summer Learning Fund, and the Oregon Cultural Trust allowed the organization to rent space for performances and pay park permitting fees, an extra cost of about $10,000. Donations from Mountain West Investment Corporation and a partnership with Catholic Community Services also helped

This season, you’ll find CET performances throughout the community. The Amphitheater at Keizer Rapids Park will host the Level 7 performance of “She Kills Monsters.”

The MidSummer Festival Shows will be at North Salem High School along with the musical, Disney’s “High School Musical Jr.”

The library show, “The Trials of Robin Hood” will make its appearance at Pentacle Theatre.

The traveling show, “This is Hamlet” will be open to the public and parents at Salem Cinema, and also perform at Grant Elementary School’s summer program for the school community.

Check out the CET website for more information on performance times and dates.

Jeanine Stice is a freelance writer based in Salem. Contact her at [email protected]

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