This year marked the sixth session of Summer @ the Conservatory, the Harker Conservatory’s comprehensive performing arts program in theater, musical theater and film acting. Established in 2018, Summer @ the Conservatory was designed to complement other youth theater programs in the Bay Area, in addition to helping offset the closing of the California Theatre Center.
“We saw this need basically for this type of program to exist in the Bay Area for students to have this kind of acting conservatory,” said Madi Lang-Ree ’15, who taught at S@TC’s first session and returned to teach again this year.
Conservatory Presents, open to students in grades 5-9, is aimed toward younger theater enthusiasts who wish to build their skills. The three-week program puts students in workshops with industry professionals, learning theater fundamentals and working on acts that are showcased at the final Friday of the sessions. For more experienced students, the audition-only Musical Theater Intensive and Conservatory Intensive offer the chance to bring their skills to the next level with more challenging material. These programs also culminate with a live showcase at the Patil Theater.
“Presents does a really good job of preparing kids to go into intensive,” said Topaz Gao ’21, an alum S@tC instructor. “[Intensive] is a little deeper, a little more one-on-one work so that we can get more specific.”
Each of these programs are also taught by Harker Conservatory alum directors, who return during the summer to pass on the principles they learned in their respective disciplines. “I think it really speaks to the power of [Harker’s performing arts programs], K through 12,” said Ellie Lang-Ree ’19, another alum teacher. “It’s such a joy to come back to work with my friends. These are people that I did shows with and I grew up in the arts with.”
Zubin Khera ’23, teaching at S@tC for his first time this year, was moved to become an instructor after experiencing the joys of theater as an upper school student. “I picked up a lot of extracurriculars throughout my time in high school … and theater was one of the few that stuck with me all four years,” he said. “Theater is honestly such a great outlet to get frustration out, to get your thoughts out, and the community is so welcoming in general.”
Returning alum teacher Alex Kumar ’21 remembered being enrolled in the first session of S@tC in 2018. “It was amazing,” they said. “It was super fulfilling, a really wonderful experience.” Kumar decided to continue theater at Harker until graduation, and was later asked to return to teach the summer program: “It felt nice to take everything that I learned each learned each year and … spend the summer sharing that all the things that I’ve learned with these younger students.”
S@tC has also brought in current Conservatory students to teach, such as rising senior Isabella Ribeiro. “I feel like it’s just a great creative outlet for kids to find themselves and also explore different ways to express themselves,” she said. Ribeiro attended the California Theatre Center and S@tC its first year. “I absolutely loved it here. It was just such a fun way to meet new people and from all of all over the place.” Inspired by the staff she looked up to as a student, she later decided she wanted to teach. “I’ve been having a blast. It’s been so so fun,” she said.
Although the Intensive classes have remained the same size since the first Summer @ the Conservatory session, overall interest in the program has grown significantly over the years, with the Conservatory Presents course enrolling 50 students this year, nearly twice as many as its first program in 2018, according to Ellie Lang-Ree.
“We always have student and parent feedback surveys which actually give us such great ideas about how to grow,” they said. “Just knowing that the students want to do more and that they’re interested in doing more is so important to us, and it’s exciting to us that there is a drive in the students to do more and to be excited about more, and that drives us as educators.”