Campers go showboatin’ at the Smoot

MICHAEL ERB Special to the Times Instructor Alison Cressey, right, leads a group of students in a song and dance routine Friday at the Smoot Theatre's annual Camp Vaudeville. The students will perform an original musical at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Smoot.

PARKERSBURG — Camp Vaudeville has taken to the water this summer, teaching youth about music, dance and the heyday of the showboat era.

Forty-five students in grades two through nine have spent the week learning song and dance at the historic Smoot Theatre in downtown Parkersburg, said Smoot Director Felice Jorgeson.

For the camp’s 28th year, Jorgeson said instructors decided to focus on the showboat era and its transition into vaudeville. The program is called “Showboatin’: A Musical Journey to Vaudeville.”

“Showboats were the precursor to vaudeville,” she said. “Vaudeville killed the showboat, because cities had theaters and they didn’t need boats for the shows anymore.”

The camp has worked on a musical which reflects a journey along the Ohio River to different cities and styles of song and dance. The original musical will be performed at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Smoot Theatre. Tickets for adults are $7, and children’s tickets are $5.

“We took melodies that are public domain and changed the lyrics to be about the history of the river,” Jorgeson said.

Throughout the week the students, in addition to learning the dance and musical numbers, have met with special guests about the history of showboats, the history of the Ohio River and some of the challenges related to river life.

The students also had a chance to tour the Blennerhassett Museum and take a river cruise Thursday night, Jorgeson said.

Jorgeson said this year all of the camp’s staff are experienced in their fields, whether it be theater, vocal or instrumental music, or dance.

“We have a very professional group working with these kids, and that is one of the things that makes us stand out from other programs,” she said.

This year, two of the campers are the children of previous campers. Olivia Hayhurst, 9, is the daughter of Mark Hayhurst, and Zoe Daugherty, 13, is the daughter of Russell Daugherty.

“My dad, he did the very first Camp Vaudeville,” Olivia Hayhurst said. “I think the camp is a great thing, and it has spread my love to perform in front of an audience.”

Zoe Daugherty said Camp Vaudeville ignited a love of theater in her father and he has been active with the arts ever since.

“I think it’s awesome that it’s been around all these years and that all of these people have wanted to participate,” she said. “I think it’s a great program all around.”

Zoe Daugherty said it was hard for her to choose her favorite thing about Camp Vaudeville this year.

“I really can’t choose one,” she said. “I just love it all.”