For 27 summers, Capital Playhouse’s Kids at Play program got children hooked on theater through workshops that produced musicals all summer long.
These days, though, the playhouse is in limbo. The space was used last month to stage large floats for the Procession of the Species, and Olympia Family Theater is considering taking over the site.
Meanwhile, though, the empty theater means an empty space in the summer plans of the young actors who’ve been participating in Kids at Play’s musicals.
Enter Apple Tree Productions, owned by Heidi Fredericks, the playhouse’s former artistic director. Apple Tree, which has been producing plays for local schools, will launch its summer program with a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” along with a theater program for students with special needs.
Fredericks, who teaches drama at Tumwater High School, will direct “Joseph” along with Colleen Powers, a former Kids at Play director who last year retired from teaching English and drama at Olympia High School.
“We’re not trying to be Kids at Play, but we did feel that there was a void,” said Fredericks, who worked at the playhouse for almost a decade. “There are a tremendous number of quality children’s theater programs in the area that weren’t here when Kids at Play first started, but Kids at Play had something unique to it.
“We’re not trying to reproduce that exact magic, but we did feel that the kids we’ve worked with for so long would still need a place to spend their summer and a place to practice their art.”
“We loved the Kids at Play program,” said Powers, who directed for Kids at Play for more than 20 years. “My daughter started doing it when she was 14, shortly after we moved to Olympia, and I have been involved with it ever since.”
Fredericks’ history with the Capital Playhouse goes back to the days when the company was housed in the Capitol Theater. “I was with it the first year and the first several years,” she said. “I started when I was — gosh, I guess I was 11 or so.
“The first show I did was ‘Oliver.’ I think it was the first musical they did there. The following summer is when they created the Kids at Play program.”
Several other former playhouse staff members, including set designer Bruce Haasl and technical director Dennis Kurtz, also are participating in the summer Apple Tree program.
Fredericks formed Apple Tree to produce plays for local schools, including an upcoming production of “Schoolhouse Rock Live” starring Washington Middle School students. She headed up a similar program as part of Kids at Play.
“Once Capital Playhouse folded, the schools contacted me and said, ‘We still want you,’ so I put together my own company so I could stay with the students I’d been with for so long at various schools.”
Fredericks directed plays at Boston Harbor, Garfield and Pioneer elementary schools this year.
While the school plays and “Joseph” fit the mold of Capital Playhouse’s programs, the Showcase program for students with special needs is a new one for South Sound.
The program will be an acting class, including games, and will culminate with a performance where students can show the skills they will develop.
“I have a 5-year-old son who has autism,” Fredericks said. “He’s very musical and very dramatic, and there just wasn’t a program around that suited his needs that he could really fully participate in.”
So she started an acting class for students with special needs, and now she’s expanding the vision with the summer program, which will meet three days a week. And there’s no charge to participate.
“As a parent of a special-needs child, you put in so much money to try every therapy and every service and every toy,” she said. “I wanted to put together something that parents didn’t have to worry about financially.”
Apple Tree Productions’ summer theater program
Apple Tree Productions, which employs several former Capital Playhouse employees, is continuing the Capital Playhouse tradition of producing youth theater during the summer.
There will be two productions:
n “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” with performances July 31-Aug. 3. Rehearsals are 9 a.m.-noon weekdays June 20-Aug. 1.
n Showcase, an acting class for students with special needs, with a performance July 26. The program is 12:30-2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday June 30-July 25.
Performances will be at Tumwater High School Performing Arts Center, 700 Israel Road SW, Tumwater; rehearsals at the Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 N. Columbia St., Olympia.
Cost: $500 per student for “Joseph,” which is open to ages 7-18; and free for Showcase, which is open to students with special needs.
What: Washington Middle School students and Apple Tree Productions, owned by former Capital Playhouse artistic director Heidi Fredericks, present the musical based on the educational animated short films that aired between Saturday morning cartoons starting in the 1970s.
When: 6:30 p.m. May 16 and 17
Where: Olympia High School Performing Arts Center, off Carlyon Avenue, Olympia