I went to this camp for two summers, so I’m not an unbiased reviewer. Rapkin has a big old crush on Stagedoor Manor, which I think is a little excessive. Theater Geek is a quick and enjoyable enough read, but I think even if I hadn’t gone to Stagedoor myself, I would have pegged the author as overly effusive. But maybe that’s just sour grapes because I wasn’t a camp star like the book’s three profilees were.
Any Stagedoor alum of my era and a few years later will enjoy the chapter on Jack Romano, the camp’s feared and revered director and acting teacher. I was disappointed that no anecdotes reported how Jack would yell, “You’ve got to fuck us, fuck us!” (I believe the word his Cuban accent obscured was “focus.”) You couldn’t be sure though, for as Rapkin reports, “Jack--whose compact frame seemed much too small to accommodate his explosive energy--could be wildly inappropriate. He cursed at children. He threw chairs.” p.77
One thing that surprised me, since my history with the that locale isn’t limited to Stagedoor Manor, is that devotees from the Shree Muktananda Ashram in another repurposed Catskills hotel “got jobs as the maintenance crew at Stagedoor” because Muktananda “preached the joys of simple tasks to free your mind.” p.83 (My family, especially my mother, went to the ashram before my sister and I went to the camp.)
I was amused to read that years after my time at Stagedoor they razed the pool and turned it into a theater. That cracked me up because I have no memory of there being a pool at camp, or any kind of athletic activities, other than dance class. Rapkin makes that point a few times in the book, how proudly clueless most of the campers are about sports. As a teenage theater geek, it was validating for me to be around other kids who didn’t give a shit about sports.
Granted Rapkin isn’t as concerned with my era at Stagedoor, but I feel that he missed something important by not having more to say about the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was HUGE when I was there. It’s not even in the index (but there is an index, which is awesome, though it’s probably there more for namedropping purposes than an information professional’s zeal). Other obsessions during my time there were punk (I accidentally, perhaps out of shyness, ended up with a Reminiscence tank top belonging to Jon Cryer, who insisted repeatedly that I give it back after I wore it in our production of Laugh-In) and Cats. For real.
Kids' taste in musicals also included camp standbys The Me Nobody Knows, Runaways, and Working, along with all the Sondheim Rapkin talks about. (He also references those three shows that were big in my day and theorizes why they are less popular now.)
It should also be noted that during one of the summers I got involved in a film project, on the tech side, and in retrospect, it’s probably the happiest experience I had at Stagedoor. I should have known I was going to end up behind the scenes eventually, and like it a lot better than acting, or spending time with actors.
CATS: not even a Grizabella!