TheatreLab Dayton shines spotlight on local youth

Students will perform original show June 1 and 2.



Spaceships, aliens and potions – creativity knows no bounds at the “Kids Collaborate!” writing and performance workshop. Just ask Brok the Bully, Sammy Smartypants and Roxis, characters created by the young workshop participants.

“Children generally have such great opportunities to perform, but this is an opportunity for them to write their own show,” said Mathew Klickstein, local author and workshop producer. “It can be based on their lives and their personalities. I see myself as a guide or a coach but it’s their game and their team.”

The free YouthLab workshop is just one of the many innovative programs and performances of TheatreLab Dayton. Founded in 2014 as Dare 2 Defy Productions, the professional theater company became TheatreLab Dayton in late 2021 with former artistic director Philip Drennen taking the reigns as executive director.

“We wanted the name to better encompass our mission,” Drennen said. “We want to cultivate new works, grow our youth program and offer workshops and we kept coming back to experiments, so TheatreLab worked.”

TheatreLab – in its spacious new downtown home at 116 N. Jefferson St., Suite 200 – offers five mainstage productions a year, including the recent “Something Rotten!” at the Victoria Theatre, but youth programming remains a priority for the innovative arts organization. So, when Klickstein made a pitch to Drennen about a writing workshop, there was no hesitation.

“Just to see their minds work is a crazy experience,” Drennen said of the young writers. “It’s amazing what they come up with.”

The workshop is designed to be a free-flow, collaborative experience. Each participant writes and, later, performs their own original monologues. The performances are slated for at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 1 (open dress rehearsal) with the final performance at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 2 Tickets are available at

“I just stay out of the way and let them go,” Klickstein said.

Nine-year-old Jaxon Heritage of Oakwood has performed in multiple local productions, but this workshop has given him a unique opportunity.

“I really enjoy the writing,” Heritage said. “I haven’t done anything like this where I can make my own story.”

Dayton siblings Anemone and Adrian McKenzie agree.

“I enjoy being able to share my ideas and write freely,” Adrian, 12, said.

“I like that I get to make up all my own stuff,” his 8-year-old sister, Anemone, added.

After the applause, the process continues for the young writers/performers.

“One of the best parts of the project is we set up time at the end of each show for an investigative and lengthy Q&A between the audience and kids,” Klickstein said. “Philip and I do not take part in it so that the kids can talk about their process themselves. It tends to be what people in the audience enjoy best about the shows, hearing the kids tell the story themselves of how they put this all together.”

While this is the second writer’s workshop Klickstein has organized locally, he hopes it is just scratching the surface of what is possible. He envisions productions where the teens and tweens do it all – from writing and acting to set design and construction.

“I want to see this get bigger,” Klickstein said. “This is the fun stuff for me, this is revitalizing.”

YouthLab Summer Camps

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Future Stars

Musical Theatre Camp

What: Sing! Dance! Save the world! A two-week camp blasts off with fundamentals of theater through games, exercises, and group numbers taught by local professional teaching artists. Final performance held June 24.

Who: Ages 9-12

When: June 13-24, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

More: Afternoon session add-on 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The Squad (Week 1)

Musical Theatre Camp

What: Super Singers - students will get one-on-one and group training in singing in the pop/rock musical theatre style as well as audition cuts with a final performance July 1.

Who: Ages 13-18

When: June 27-July 1, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

More: Afternoon session add-on 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The Squad (Week 2)

Musical Theatre Camp

What: Fearless Workshops - Throughout the week, students will engage in singing, acting, and dance workshops taught by local professionals and teaching artists.

Who: Ages 13-18

When: July 5-8, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

More: Afternoon session add-on 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Superhero Town

Acting Camp/Performance

What: Two-week camp will utilize acting and improv exercises while rehearsing for a full-length play, “Superhero Town.” Before “Wandavision,” there was “Superhero Town,” a play that mashes up the mundane world of suburban life with the thrilling world of superheroes, directed by Philip Drennen. Auditions for roles required for participation in “Superhero Town.”

Who: Ages 10-18

When: July 11 - 22, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

More: Afternoon session add-on 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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