Theater Camp: A Cringeworthy Comedy In The Best Way


The summer going into my first year of middle school, I decided to take a two-week theater class with my friend. The company was called Odd Act Theatre Group, and it was situated in a plaza next to a dojo. The performance space was tiny, almost like a black box theater. We didn’t have a stage with wings or curtains. We had a small, wooden, rectangular box that could barely support the weight of five kids. Our “green room” was a hallway full of torn costumes and beat up props. The wall behind the studio was covered in graffiti drawings of male private parts and curse words.   

And the directors – were they even directors? I’ve been asking that question for almost a decade. We did three things with them during those two weeks: practice stage combat, perform unintelligible one-act plays written by the owner of the company, and watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone {2001} on repeat. Basically, the adults converted us to geekism. 

Now, recalling these things as a young adult, I’ve come to the conclusion that Odd Act was just a crappy business. It acted more like a poor daycare than a theater company. But I didn’t see that when I was 11, and my parents didn’t either. We thought the plays they put on were “unique.” So I guess that excused the sketchiness of the place. The community must’ve caught onto Odd Act’s nonsense, though, because the company ran out of business a few years later. When I heard about its closure in high school, I wasn’t shocked. Odd Act’s fate was sealed when we performed a show about zebras. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel sad. After all, I did meet some nice kids there. Peculiar, but nice. 

I pushed Odd Act to the back of my brain and continued on with my life. I completed high school, got into Rowan University, and kicked off my bachelor’s degree in Writing Arts. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that my memories of Odd Act came flooding back, sending me down a rabbit hole. 

And it was all due to the movie Theater Camp {2023}.    

I watched it with my theater major roommate on Hulu. Ben Platt stars in the film alongside Molly Gordon. To say I was excited about seeing the movie is an underplay. I was ecstatic. I hadn’t seen Platt in anything since Pitch Perfect {2012}. “Let’s do this!” I yelled when I clicked play. I knew I was in for a wild ride. 

Theater Camp is a mockumentary about a children’s theater camp called Adirond Acts. The founder of the company, Joan Rubinsky, has a seizure in the middle of Bye Bye Birdie, leaving it up to her son Troy to take care of her business while she’s in a coma. However, he’s unfamiliar with musical theatre and managing finances, so Adirond Acts is faced with potential closure. While he’s struggling to keep his mom’s company afloat, the camp’s drama teacher, Amos Klobuchar, and music instructor, Rebecca-Diane, are putting together an original musical about Joan’s life. This causes classic theater drama among the all-child cast and co-directors. 



I can easily connect with this movie since Adirond Act is a lot like Odd Act. I had the melodramatic acting coach, the show-off friends who took theater too seriously, the rehearsals that crashed and burned… I faced it all. Seeing all these situations on screen makes my experience come alive again. And I’m positive it does the same for many others who have experience with community theater. What I additionally love about Theater Camp is that it represents other audiences, particularly the LGBTQ+ community. Platt’s character, Amos, is an openly gay man. The character Glenn Winthrop, the technical director at Adirond Act, saves Amos and Rebecca’s musical by playing adult Joan. In other words, dressing in drag. There have been recent movies that incorporate LGBTQ+ themes like Knock at the Cabin {2023} and Everything Everywhere All at Once {2022}. But I can’t remember the last queer-representing movie I watched that really tickled my fancy like Theater Camp. Maybe it’s because I know multiple queer theater actors who are similar to the characters in the film? The greatest aspect about this movie is that people don’t necessarily have to be fans of musicals to enjoy Theater Camp. They only need to have an open mind, and an appetite for cringe comedy.    

“Joan Rubinsky suffered a seizure from the strobe light in Bye Bye Birdie.” That was the first narrative exposition to appear in the movie, setting the tone for the rest of the film. There are so many hilarious bits, such as the scene where Amos and Rebecca are berating Kenzie, one of their young actresses, for using a tear stick to make herself cry during a scene. “Your tears should come from within, from the story on the page. Not from some emotional grenade that you smuggled in,” Amos responds when he finds out about Kenzie’s tear stick. It’s one of those moments that makes thespians squirm in their seats, but laugh their butts off because it’s too real. Most theater directors appear overly emotional to their performers – they will take the smallest issues and blow them out of proportion, labeling them as “lessons” for the cast. And, of course, I can’t leave out the audition scene. In the beginning of the movie, a kid named Devon sings Post Malone’s song “Better Now”, and Troy, the idiot he is, gets out of his chair and starts inappropriately dancing. His character screams “stereotypical Gen Z dude,” and I’m all for it. The movie does a superb job portraying its characters in humorous and, dare I say, theatrical ways.



Theater Camp has awakened core memories within me, ones I thought I forgot. I’m not going to lie, some of the recollections make me wince with embarrassment. But looking back on them as a collective whole, I realize that if I didn’t attend Odd Act at 11-years-old, I wouldn’t have had as many funny childhood experiences and stories to tell. So I’m grateful for Theater Camp for helping me remember those long-gone days. 

But to get down to the real question, should cinephiles watch the film? Absolutely. It’s quirky, engaging, and fun to watch with a group of theater geeks. It definitely deserved that 85 percent Rotten Tomato rating. As long as there’s an audience for cringe comedy, movies like Theater Camp will thrive. 

Samantha Szumloz

Samantha Szumloz is a sophomore Writing Arts major at Rowan University. Her passions include writing poetry, short stories, and pop culture pieces.