The Weston Drama Workshop is celebrating its 60th season this summer with a run of six shows featuring a cast of child and young adult actors who take their cues from seasoned pros.
Behind the stage curtain, a strong theater community bonds everyone from young campers, to college thespians, which keeps many coming back year after year.
“The heart of the organization [has] stayed the same for the past 60 years,” said Chris Brindley, the executive producer, who started at the workshop 19 years ago as a student.
A staff of 40teach acting classes, create props, backdrops, lights, music and everything else required of a first-rate educational theater program.
“Getting to do theater at this level and at this production value is not something that a lot of people get to experience,” said Max Connor, 20, of Framingham, who has attended the workshop every summer since 7th grade.
This summer, he’s the working as a musician with younger students and starring in “Something Rotten!”
“We’re really lucky . . . that we have such an amazing design team [and] technical team that can put on these awesome shows that are really hard to come by, especially for this age group.”
In a milestone season, the workshop has more than 180 participants -- from fifth-graders to those age 23 -- from more than 36 Massachusetts communities.
The season’s line up are the musicals “Something Rotten!,” “Tuck Everlasting” and “Young Frankenstein” and the plays, “Indecent,” “Six Characters” and “Gooney Bird Greene and Her True Life Adventures.” Performances will be held July 22-30 at the Regis College Fine Arts Center, where they have been since 1994.
Longtime participants say a mix of high standards and a strong community keep them returning each summer.
“There’s a [strong] sense of professionalism,” said Liana Perlman, 20, of Needham, an eight-year participant who is now a music student at Brandeis University who will perform in “Indecent.” “The goal is equally to have fun with your friends and to put on an incredible production.”
Newer students say they love the chance to learn from more more experienced students.
“Especially the older kids in college,” said Cameron Levesque, 15, of Sudbury, who is cast in “Something Rotten!” “They’re your peers, but they’re also your mentors . . . They are always supportive.”
Eliana Aliprantis, 11, of Natick, who is performing in “Tuck Everlasting,” has returned for a second summer.
“It’s very challenging, but it challenges me in a way that I can grow,” she said. “And I’m never stressed out with Weston, and it’s just very fun.”
The workshop, at its core, is a learning environment. Key staff teach high school music and drama at local high schools during the school year.
Stephanie Manning, who is directing “Indecent,” tries to cast a strong ensemble who will share creative ideas and learn to communicate.
“There’s nothing better than an actor at the end of our process being able to look at a moment on stage and say, ‘I helped create that,’” said Manning, a teacher at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School. “It allows for the overall execution to feel far more authentic when you give those participants the opportunity to be driving the bus on the creativity.”
Aidan O’Hara, a producer who is directing “Tuck Everlasting,” said he takes pride in the lessons learned off-stage such as “kindness and friendship and community.”
“If they can create connections with their classmates and the different adults that go beyond that particular show, somebody that they’ll stay in touch with and continue to grow up with, I think that’s really special,” said O’Hara, who teaches at Wayland High School.
As a nonprofit, the workshop relies heavily on program fees, sponsorships, donations, and ticket sales to fund operations. The last two seasons were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the 2020 season to teach lessons online. Performances returned last season, but with smaller casts, Brindley said.
“As a non-profit, financially, it’s scary,” said Brindley, a drama teacher at Framingham High School.
Going forward, the workshop hopes to grow by building more support from past performers and new audiences. Ultimately, he’d love Weston to be seen not as youth theater, but as theater.
“We really do pride ourselves in the shows that we put up,” he said.