NEW PORT RICHEY — Hailey Mahadeen, 6, dreams of playing a role in a major Broadway production.
Tiffani Cruz, 12, has high hopes of having her own television show on the Disney Channel.
Jacob Andrews, 7, wants to be a professional tap dancer.
All are bright-eyed, eager kids getting a glimpse of what it feels like to be center stage at this year's theater camp at the Richey Suncoast Theatre.
They are among 56 others attending the five-day program in its 11th year, giving kids 6 to 16 an opportunity to explore their talents and perform in front of an audience.
"We have fun and it's great to see the kids grow right in front of our eyes," said Charlie Skelton, Richey Suncoast managing director.
The camp, run by Skelton, his wife Marie and several high school students, is a combination of fun and hard work.
During the theater camp, kids sing, play games like charades and audition for roles in a play they will perform at the end of the program. The script, usually written by Skelton, is modified as kids try out for the different characters. They also make their own props and create some of their costumes.
"The kids are like little sponges," Marie Skelton said. "They absorb everything they are taught, something adults can't do."
This year's play is The Election of the Mayor of Oz. The kids will become characters such as Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Wicked Witch and the Scarecrow.
"There are so many children with so much talent in different areas and we try to bring out that talent after we see the auditions," Charlie Skelton said.
Everybody gets a part.
"That's the fun part of this," said Caitlin Ramirez, a camp counselor.
The recent Gulf High School graduate has been part of the camp for 10 years. She said she loves performing but only does it for fun. She hopes to someday be an FBI agent.
Shawna Henthorne said her daughter Gloria, who would one day like to be a professional singer, has been part of the summer program for four years and that there really isn't another camp like this in the area.
"It's a big confidence boost when they come here," Henthorne said. "You just see them year after year get out of their shell and because the environment is very positive, they all encourage each other when one or other is too shy."
While some of them dream about one day finding themselves in the spotlight on opening night or being on television or in movies, others like Gino Ghirardo, 10, enjoy the behind the scenes duties. He was part of the stage crew in last year's play and plans to be part of that again this time around.
"I don't like being on stage because I have fun working the curtains and taking care of the props," he said.
"I wasn't expecting to have this much fun," said Hailey Mahadeen, who is at her first camp. "I thought it would be really strict, but we have been playing fun games and making friends."
The petite, soft spoken 6-year-old said she's thought about becoming an actress and performing in New York since she was 4.
"Some of these kids have never acted before," Charlie Skelton said. "Come Saturday, you are going to think they were on stage for years."
Jacqueline Baylon can be reached at email@example.com or at (727) 869-6247.