Chenoweth’s Broadway Bootcamp: from humble beginnings to global success
By John Dobberstein, Editor
Kristin Chenoweth has always prayed for continued success for the Broadway Bootcamp, where students – many of them aspiring entertainers -- come to collaborate with Broadway professionals and gain insight into the world of performing arts, gaining inspiration to pursue their craft.
But the program’s growth and success appears to surprise even Chenoweth, a Broken Arrow High School graduate and Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actress and singer who founded the bootcamp.
Graduates and staff of the 8th annual bootcamp will be honored tonight at the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center during the Kristi Awards. This year, there were 62 children in the program from 22 states and five foreign countries, so the Broadway Bootcamp has gone global.
“I talk about this camp every year, and every year I keep saying it won't get better than this. But this year, I say, ‘How can it get better than this?’ They’re so talented,” Chenoweth said week. “We turned away quite a few. It’s getting more and more competitive.
“When I look back at the mission statement and what I wanted to do from the very beginning, I hoped I would be standing here being able to talk about the program like this. But I'm thrilled to tell you these kids are way more talented than I am.”
Back to basics
Some changes were made to the bootcamp’s format this year. The students were brought in a few days earlier to give them a chance to settle in and get prepared for a week of learning. Chenoweth and her staff wanted the students to relax and get to know their surroundings and each other.
“This year I wanted to get back to the basics,” Chenoweth explained. “I wanted to get back to the original idea of what camp was which is the process of performance -- not just focusing on the performance. We brought in everybody three days before to just strictly act, sing and dance with the teachers. Nothing having to do with performing, just technique and process.
“When camp started technically on Monday they were here and ready to learn and they came out with boots on the ground.”
Chenoweth turned her thoughts to the smally army of “top-notch” Broadway stars and entertainment professionals brought in again this year to teach, including Zak Barnett, Faith Prince, Lara Tater, Mary Mitchell-Campbell, Erin Dilly, Celeste Simone, Kevin Chamberlain, Matt Berman and Kenny Ortega.
She also thanked BAPAC director Kim Vento and her staff this week for helping to pull off a successful camp again.
“So much happens before I and the cameras arrive and it goes back to Kim Vento,” she said. “This performing arts center is beautifully built and every year I walk in, I want to say ‘Wow, they’re doing this show and that act, and they’re doing this cool electronic game contest that I'm just now learning about.
“But I'm really proud of what they've done with their arts series celebrating Broadway with four to five shows every year.”
Letting the guard down
When the Kristi Awards kick off Saturday night, it will be the melding together of many talents, experiences and emotions into a cohesive performance.
Every generation may believe they had more challenges growing up than the previous one. But children today face many complex and intense pressures due to constant message bombardment, and the allure of social media.
Some school experts believe school bullying has become an epidemic, and all these pressures have become even more difficult for some children due to the fallout from the pandemic.
Every night, Chenoweth and the staff switch gears from the grind of performance to convene a session called “Gratitude” where students can talk about their camp experiences, about school, what’s going on at home or on social media – whatever is on their mind.
Chenoweth said this session is valuable for students to have their voices heard and it’s not always “just the pretty stuff” being discussed.
“You know, I thought it was so difficult when I was growing up, right? They have it a lot harder. They’re dealing with social media that is truly wonderful, and also a threatening thing to our society. I love it when our kids use it for the betterment of the arts. But I’m not liking what can happen online. Our kids need to be able to share with each other and I encourage positivity here at this camp.”
The bootcamp has faculty ready to discuss many of these pressures and emotions, and Chenoweth notes some students have come to them with different issues.
“We are there for them,” she said. “We are at their disposal, not just artistically but as humans.”
Chenoweth continues to be impressed with the number of talented students coming up in Oklahoma, potentially continuing a tradition that started with the likes of Woody Guthrie and J.J. Cale and has grown to include Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith, Vince Gill, Blake Shelton and more.
“I always say to Reba, ‘There's something in our water, right? I know about five kids from Oklahoma right now that, if they chose to, could most likely make a living. Two are from Broken Arrow.
“That was my original dream, as many people know when I started this. I kept it statewide. It wasn't until COVID when we had to do it virtually that I opened it up to everyone. And next thing I know, Singapore and Germany and Ireland and Australia are there, and Britain.
“Now it’s become this global baby from phenomenon that's growing and growing and growing. It's the ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario. And I'm ready for it, I'm here for it, and I'm not going away.”