Drop in during rehearsal at Meyer Hideout Theatre Camp and you'll find director Kyla Meyer in her element - tie-dying camp T-shirts, dancing, teaching and, most importantly, connecting with groups of children.
Meyer, 28, of Twain Harte, started the summer theater camp seven years ago, with the financial help of John Williams, owner of Bob's Greenley Pharmacy.
Meyer Hideout Inc. is a nonprofit six-week summer theater camp for
children held on the campus of the former Black Oak School.
It recently merged with the Sonora Children's Theatre and Meyer is now artistic director of both troupes.
Meyer said she first had the idea of a theater camp for children
when her brother organized a retreat for his high school senior exit
project. During college, she designed the camp's layout and gained some
practical experience as a gymnastics camp counselor.
Meyer has always enjoyed singing, even though she admits her voice
isn't the best, and says in her youth "some teachers told some of us we
should never sing."
"I want to make sure kids don't have that experience," Meyer explained.
Her dream came to fruition after having a conversation with
Williams, her former youth pastor at All Saints' Church in Twain Harte.
"I said, 'What are you going to do with a degree in children's
theater?' " Williams recounted. "She wanted to stay in Sonora. I said,
'Well, let's do a play this year.' "
Less than a month and a $15,000 donation from Williams later, Meyer Hideout had its first summer camp session.
"I like trying to help the kids in my youth group achieve their dreams," Williams said.
Campers describe Meyer as a good teacher, one who directs and leads
well but is still "a big kid herself," said Eddie Holgerson, 18, a
Summerville High School graduate sixth-year camper and now a counselor.
Meyer, a 1999 Sonora High graduate, was a Young American performer
for a year after high school. Young American outreach groups visit
schools across the country, including Tuolumne County, and put on
workshops in music, dance and performance.
Meyer then went to Columbia College for a year before transferring
to Sonoma State University. She graduated in 2003 with a bachelor's
degree in theater arts. She also recently completed an associate's
degree in voice at Columbia College.
At Sonoma State, Meyer worked in the Person Theatre as a
set-builder, lighting operator and costumer, and at the Center for
Performing Arts as an assistant.
Her theater focus was in musical theater performance, production,
directing and working with children. Meyer also performed in "Krank," a
Kurt Weill review, "Candide," "The Magic Flute," "Quantum Opera Scenes"
and "Freedom Project," along with numerous choirs and musical theater
Most recently, Meyer was seen as Hucklebee in the Black Bart
Players production of "The Fantasticks" in Murphys. Meyer also sings in
the Columbia College Community Chorus.
She taught music to Black Oak School students and musical theater
and choir after school. She also taught music classes for primary grade
students at Sonora Elementary School.
For two years she ran the Community Children's Chorus through the Central Sierra Arts Council.
In the future, Meyer envisions a permanent theater that offers overnight programs.
"I love spreading the love of music and theater to kids," Meyer said.
"The first year the kids we got involved got a great deal out of it
- a lot of joy," Williams said. "It seemed like I was helping a lot of
kids, so we did it again."
Williams said you can't run a children's program without someone who understands kids.
"Kyla makes everything fun for them," Williams said. "There's a sense of belonging."
The name Meyer Hideout gives the impression of a treehouse or clubhouse everyone belongs to, Williams said.
"She's extremely patient and kind and fun," said parent Pam Slakey,
of Soulsbyville, whose daughter was a camper and is now a counselor.
Camp isn't all theater all the time. It also includes activities
like tie-dying, swimming twice a week and field trips to places like
llama farms and downtown Sonora's Candy Vault.
"It's so much fun," Meyer said of camp. "To me, you have to swim in the summer."
During the school year, the kids have opportunities to perform in community events and activities, Meyer said.
Rehearsals for these shows are held throughout the school year and "Hideout kids" can join at any time of the year.
Meyer also holds some of the rehearsals at her parents' house in Twain Harte.
"Everyone's just a big family," said Natalie Buller, 16, of Summerville High.
Hideout kids have performed at community functions including the
Foothill Farmlands Arts Festival, Sonora Regional Medical Center's
employee party, the Calaveras County Soroptimist Tea and a three-week
engagement as "the orphans" at Columbia City Hotel's 25th annual
Since the partnership with Sonora Children's Theatre, there are also after-school programs available.
More than 80 percent of "Hideout kids" return summer after summer.
"It's just overall fun," Holgerson said. "You can come in and not worry about what everyone thinks."
Even after summer, kids who meet at the Hideout stick together, said Summerville High sophomore Elyse Northcutt, 14.
Slakey said the program really prepared her daughter for the Connections Visual and Performing Arts Academy in Tuolumne.
Slakey's husband, Dave, is on the Hideout board.
"It's a wonderful program," he said. "The kids are learning a multitude of different social and practical skills."
An important component of camp is how it improves social skills and acceptance of people for who they are, Meyer said.
"We've seen huge changes in kids who come here year after year," she said.
The Hideout kids will present their seventh main stage production,
"Willy Wonka Jr.," at 7 p.m. July 29, 30 and 31 at St. Patrick's
Catholic Church in Sonora.