Curtain Up on a New Endeavor

by Jim Romenesko

Meet Joshua Thone, a young man for whom theater has been a central focus since he was a child. The soon-to-be senior at Xavier High School recalls his first role: that of Pinocchio in “Hocus Pocus,” an original play at the Neenah “Y” when he was nine years old. 

Since then, Thone has performed in about forty-five productions. Impressive for a young man of his age.

But this year, he enters a new phase in his showbiz life as he heads up an exciting project of his own.

At the end of his stint as a park leader for the Fox Crossing Parks and Recreation Department last summer, Thone proposed a theater day camp experience as a new component of the summer program.  His supervisor liked the idea, and “Theater in the Park” was born. 

The purpose of the new program, according to Thone, is to provide a comfortable and welcoming introduction to the theater to children with an interest but little or no performing experience. “Coming into a new experience can seem overwhelming,” he said. But he is intent on countering any initial nervousness.   

Thone wants to ensure that his students gain a broad understanding of theatrical production.  “I want them to understand that there’s more to theater than acting”, he said. He’s ensuring this by teaching them about subjects such as set design and costuming. “They’re also active participants in staging their scenes,” he said, adding that this helps them to look at the play from the director’s perspective.

He fondly remembers that one student, Charlie, came into the camp solidly determined to work on the stage crew. By the end of the first day, he had been inspired to try acting and is now performing one of the featured roles in the show.

Describing a typical day at the camp, Thone said, “We usually start with the theater game.” (improv-based activities that serve as a physical warm-up while teaching the students to react spontaneously.) “It’s much more fun than just listening to me talk.”

All this training will culminate in a live performance (for families only) of “Jack and the Beanstalk” held at the park pavilion in late July.

Thone is thrilled with the program so far. “Growing up in theater, I was constantly inspired by my instructors and directors. It’s been very satisfying to work with the next generation and be able to form them by teaching correct practice, etiquette, and work ethic,” he said. 

Stepping into the teaching role has been exciting for Thone.  “It’s great to take my knowledge and experience and pass it on to others versus being the one who benefits from the expertise of others.” 

He also finds it exciting to be a part of so many firsts.  It’s his first time as an instructor, the first season for “Theater in the Park,” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” is among the first shows to be performed for a live audience after the COVID shutdown.

Thone is proud to see his idea come to life.  He summed up his feelings about the program: “I’m happy to provide a creative outlet for kids who haven’t really been able to experience live theater for eighteen months.”  

And, thanks to Josh Thone, they are getting a great first experience.