Theatre in Film: Camp (2003)

Written by Ashleigh Gardner

December 1, 2016

Welcome back to Theatre in Film, our weekly featurette on a film that showcases a life in the theatre. In Part VI of Theatre in Film, we focus on films from 2003 to 2008 that feature characters overcoming internal and very personal struggles to find their happiness in a life of theatre. This week, we feature the indie film that continuously captures the hearts of all theatre kids with its original musical numbers and messages of friendship and determination: Camp (2003)

Camp (2003)

Director: Todd Graff
Starring: Daniel Letterle, Joanna Chilcoat, Robin de Jesús, Anna Kendrick, Alana Allen, and Don Dixon

What happens:

Camp revolves around the experiences of a number of teenagers attending Camp Ovation, a theatre summer camp that annually puts on productions by students. In this camp, many of the children find that they can be themselves without fear of rejection. Michael (Robin de Jesús), a boy who likes to wear women’s clothes, feels at home at camp after getting beat up at his high school prom for wearing a dress. Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat), a plain-faced girl with a passion for belting, finds her beauty in her talent. New kid Vlad (Daniel Letterle) is a straight kid with a passion for acting who finds his vocal talent in folk rock musical numbers. Meanwhile, Fritzi (Anna Kendrick) dotes upon leading lady Jill (Alana Allen) until Jill rejects and humiliates her. Fritzi, in a vengeful crusade, pours bleach in Jill’s water before a show, and Fritzi makes her way onstage as Jill’s understudy in “The Ladies Who Lunch”.

When Bert Hanley (Don Dixon), an acclaimed musical composer, comes to the camp to direct the musical shows, he displays a bitter disposition, cussing at the children and telling them that they have delusions of grandeur if they think they’ll make it big. When Vlad finds sheet music of Hanley’s newest compositions, he gets the other kids together to perform the songs for a benefit concert that Stephen Sondheim attends. (Yes, the real Stephen Sondheim.)

Why it matters:

Every theatre kid knows how insanely difficult it is to navigate middle school and high school without being bullied for something. Part of the reason we enter into a life in theatre is to explore who we are as people and to find other like-minded artists who appreciate our differences. In Camp, Michael, Ellen, Vlad, and the rest of the teens attend in the hopes that they’ll find a family of peers who accepts them for who they are. After Michael’s parents stop speaking to him following his prom, Michael needs a surrogate family who fulfills his needs for love and affection. He finds that in his friends at Camp Ovation.

In addition to children finding inspiration and hope at the camp, Bert Hanley, the bitter director, finds hope in his own material when the kids perform his work. Often, when theatre artists don’t get the role they want or an opportunity passes them by, they begin to feel so dejected that they pass off their bitterness on other people, especially on younger generations. It’s important to remember that though our own experiences may have tainted us, we must not lay our fears of rejection and bitterness on others, especially when they are working hard to achieve their own dreams.

Below is a scene from Camp in which Anna Kendrick’s character Fritzi takes the stage after she’s poisoned Jill’s water. (*Adult language.)

This film is the first featured in Part VI of “Theatre in Film”. See below for the others in Part VI.

  • Stage Beauty (2004) (Coming soon.)
  • Being Julia (2004) (Coming soon.)
  • Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005) (Coming soon.)
  • Me and Orson Welles (2008) (Coming soon.)


Want to start with Part I? Begin with 42nd Street (1933).
Miss Part II? Check out The Band Wagon (1953).
Need a refresh for Part III? Start with our feature on All That Jazz (1979).
How about a recap from Part IV? Jump into A Chorus of Disapproval (1989).
Check out Part Vand start with An Awfully Big Adventure (1995).

Ashleigh Gardner received her AA in Theatre/Drama/Dramatic Arts from Valencia College and her Bachelors Degree in English Literature and Masters Degree in Literary, Cultural, and Textual Studies from the University of Central Florida. She is a playwright, an actor, and’s Editor. 
Thumbnail image from Camp. Copyright IFC Films, 2003.