Lights, camera, 'Aladdin'!

Sturgis Youth Theatre performance
Fifty middle school students rehearsed for four weeks to perform "Aladdin" during this summer's Sturgis Youth Theatre camp

Learning lines. Painting scenery. Making sure props are in the right place. Fifty middle school students are doing these things and loving it during this summer’s Sturgis Youth Theatre (SYT) camp. The camp will culminate in six public performances of "Aladdin" at Strayer-Wood Theatre on the UNI campus, July 21 through 24.

SYT, a program of UNI’s Department of Theatre, was founded by UNI theatre professor Gretta Berghammer in 1999. The program gives young people the opportunity to explore and experience all facets of theatre production and performance within a safe, supportive and educational environment. SYT produces two plays each year – one during the summer and one during the academic year.

For some, this is the fifth consecutive summer they’ve participated in the program; for others, it’s their first time in a play. No matter what their experience level, Berghammer sees growth in the participants during their four weeks together.

"The students learn self-discipline, they learn about being on time and they learn to be quiet backstage, among other things," said Berghammer. "They also get to meet others who share common interests who may not attend their same school, so it’s a great way for them to make new friends."

Sturgis Youth Theatre performance
Audiences are welcomed to six public performances of "Aladdin" at Strayer-Wood Theatre on the UNI campus, July 21 through 24.

The SYT summer production is just like any other professionally produced play in that it includes colorful scenery, beautiful costumes and creative lighting – yet it differs in a notable way: The student’s don’t audition for a particular role. Instead, roles are played by several actors throughout the production.

Since no one "owns" a role, audience members will watch one actor in the role of Aladdin in scene one, a second actor in the role of Aladdin in scene two, and on and on. Likewise, the person who played Aladdin in scene one may be a street urchin in scene two and an elephant in scene three. In scene four, he may not have a role, and he may return to the stage to play the genie in scene five.

"How do you become a good actor?" asked Berghammer. "By being cast. Playing different roles gives students a point of entry [into the world of theatre], and students get to feel comfortable and be successful in the four weeks we have together. Being in a scene where everyone collectively is doing a small thing makes a big thing happen. You are only as good as those around you."

Learn more about the Sturgis Youth Theatre and purchase tickets at