Rich Theatre produces summer drama camps for kids and teens and offering coaching and lessons throughout the year. Its founders Jason and Lynn Richards bring family fun into this energetic theatre company, persevering, creating, and educating through any challenge.
Jason and I have been married for 9 years. We have 3 sons: Oliver (8), Winston (6), and Spencer (4) and have homeschooled since Oliver was 5. We met at Regent University when we were both in graduate school - Lynn for an MFA in Acting and Jason for an MA in Directing.
Four years after graduating and both moving away, we started a long-distance relationship over the phone. Then he moved up to New York City to marry me!
We've been back in Virginia Beach now for over 7 years. I'm originally from Wisconsin, and he's
from North Florida (he insists on North Florida; because "he's not from Orlando or Miami"), and we love it here in VB. Jason is getting back into surfing more, Rich Theatre is growing, and we both have friends that are family and roots here.
I used to teach in the Regent Summer Theatre Camps. The Director, Chris Nelson, a recent graduate, was approached by homeschool parents who wanted their kids to do musical theatre in a Christian environment. So we did it, and it was crazy and a ton of work.
Rich Theatre also started at Spring Branch Community Church, where we both were on staff. In 2015 or so, Pastor Michael Simone brought up the idea of us hosting a theatre camp in the building. It took us two years to get back to him and then it turned out to be impossible to schedule. But that summer of 2017, we first pounded the pavement looking for a site to host our camp.
In one way, Rich Theatre was born in Tom and Trish Knox's living room. Tom is an entrepreneur and they had seen Jason work with their oldest daughter Zoe on acting in the Spring Branch children's ministry--Rock City, which was a live half-hour variety show that Jason produced each Sunday for the K-5th graders.
After hearing from Zoe, Tom and Trish were fairly adamant about us doing a theatre camp. If those two had not given us their vote of confidence, and held our hands and prayed with us through some of the early decision-making, we probably would have never started.
When we finally got started the next summer, we hosted a 2-week camp at Calvary Baptist Church on Haygood Road, featuring 3 fully-produced performances of Shrek the Musical JR-- costumes, sets, lights, the works--all in two weeks. It was ambitious... We had 9 students playing 25 roles.
Jason directed...and built the sets, programmed the lights, and took our production photos. I taught acting classes and was the Camp Director. Our Regent friend Beth Guarnieri Powers choreographed. My friend Hannah Rosenfarb, who was one of my original Regent Summer Theatre Camp kids, began her tenure as our Resident Musical Director and Vocal Instructor. Our friend Jenn Martin, who worked with Jason at Spring Branch, did all the costumes and props.
That first summer camp was kind of a magical experience for us. It was not easy, and sometimes we were sort of making it up as we went along. But that was part of the magic. To start with, the camp was two weeks long because that was all the time Jason could take off of work! Also, with most of the kids playing 4-6 characters, there were all these harrowing quick-changes to somehow accomplish throughout the show.
We have seen steady growth since our first summer. In addition to our (now 4-week) musical theatre summer camp, we offer a Spring Break Film Camp and several 4-8 week (virtual and in-person) class sessions. Private Vocal Lessons with Hannah Rosenfarb are offered year-round, as well as private actor coaching for camera or stage.
With a longer schedule, we were able to realize our vision of offering singing, movement, and acting lessons in the morning, and only doing show rehearsals after lunch. It really makes a difference when young people receive performance instruction and workshop time, as opposed to just learning the show.
Thankfully, our camp continued growing this summer--even in the midst of all the COVID turmoil. We had 19 socially-distanced and masked students put on 4 performances of High School Musical JR. This year we were at Catholic High School's Barry Robinson Theatre & Fine Arts Center.
Each week Jason and I would pray (and ask others to pray) that nobody would get sick. Jason kept saying, "All it would take is one cold to shut us down." And each week, everybody stayed healthy. We are still so thrilled we made it all the way through the camp and all four performances without so much as a runny nose.
We also got to see how much students needed in-person interaction. When camp started, some of our students seemed like cardboard cutouts of themselves. All of them were emerging from months of social isolation.
By the end of the first week, they had blossomed back into their old selves. Even while wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart or more, they were clearly benefiting from physically being in the presence of their peers.
Finding the work/life balance with homeschooled children has been a learning curve. (Jason says that everybody with kids is getting to know that struggle this year.)
Another big challenge of working as a family with young children is childcare. With both of us working on a summer camp (or spring break camp), we have to make arrangements for our boys to keep them busy. This second full year and third summer camp of our company has seen our three children mature enough for different camps of their own. They look forward to them. Before that, we had some separation anxiety issues.
I'm an Enneagram 1 and Jason's a 7, so we complement and balance each other. He's a wonderful visionary and I'm the "here are 5 ways to get it done" girl. Usually one of us is more optimistic than the other about some particular issue, and we get to take turns encouraging each other. Also, we have similar but different perspectives on everything, so our thinking gets broadened.
We love that our boys have no qualms about wanting to take karate, skateboard, surf, play basketball and learn to dance. Jason says he wasn't brave enough to take dance when he was a kid; he was afraid of his friends making fun of him. We want them to be well-rounded and scratch all those itches.
We are in the process of a remodel at the moment. We're moving towards creating a tiered program for our class offerings and hope to move towards multiple summer camps in the future - including something for younger students.
We dream of having multiple educational theatre camp- and class locations, a resident company of professional actors who write and produce their own work...stage and screen productions...but we've always known it starts with education.
Want to join the adventure? Rich Theatre will start fresh in the new year with an exciting class track, Spring Break Film Camp, and Summer Musical Theatre Camp on the horizon. Interested families are invited to join our Rich Theatre Insiders Mailing List for the latest news and specials through their website.
You can follow Rich Theatre for updates and snapshots of their projects on Instagram and Facebook @RichTheatreVB.