What do Natalie Portman, Robert Downey, Jr., Zach Braff, and Mandy Moore have in common? Before they were stars, they were campers at Stagedoor Manor, the premier summer theater camp for children and teenagers. Founded in 1975, Stagedoor continues to attract scores of young performers eager to find kindred spirits, to sing out loud, to become working actors—or maybe even stars.
Every summer for the past thirty-five years, a new crop of campers has come to the Catskills for an intense, often wrenching introduction to professional theater. (The camp produces thirteen full-scale productions during each of its three sessions.) These kids come from varying backgrounds—the offspring of Hollywood players from Nora Ephron to Bruce Willis work alongside kids on scholarship. Some campers have agents, others are seeking representation.
When Mickey Rapkin, a senior editor at GQ and self-proclaimed theater fanatic, learned about this place, he fled Manhattan for an escape to upstate New York. At Stagedoor, he tracked a trio of especially talented and determined teen actors through their final session at camp. Enter Rachael Singer, Brian Muller, and Harry Katzman, three high school seniors closing out their sometimes sheltered Stagedoor experiences and graduating into the real world of industry competition and rejection. These veteran campers—still battling childhood insecurities, but simultaneously searching for that professional gig that will catapult them to fame—pour their souls into what might be their last amateur shows.
Their riveting stories are told in Theater Geek, an eye-opening, laugh-out-loud chronicle full of drama and heart, but also about the business of training kids to be professional thespians and, in some cases, child stars. (The camp has long acted as a farm system for Broadway and Hollywood, attracting visits from studio executives and casting directors.) Via original interviews with former and current campers and staff—including Mandy Moore, Zach Braff, and Jon Cryer—Rapkin also recounts Stagedoor Manor’s colorful, star-studded history: What was Natalie Portman’s breakout role as a camper? What big-time Hollywood director, then barely a teenager, dated a much older Stagedoor staff member? Why did Courtney Love (at Stagedoor visiting her daughter) get into an argument with a hot dog vendor who had set up shop at the camp?
Theater Geek leads readers through the triumphs and tragedies of the three senior campers’ final summer in an absorbing, thought-provoking narrative that reveals the dynamic and inspiring human beings who populate this world. It also explores what the proliferation of theater camps says about our celebrity-obsessed youth and our most basic but vital need to fit in. Through the rivalry, heartbreak, and joy of one summer at Stagedoor Manor, Rapkin offers theater geeks of all ages a dishy, illuminating romp through the lives of serious child actors. Rich, insightful, and thoroughly entertaining, Theater Geek pulls back the curtain on an elite and intriguing world to reveal what’s really at its core: children who simply love to perform.
About the Author
Mickey Rapkin is a senior editor at GQ magazine. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, TimeOut New York, The New York Post, Entertainment Weekly, and other publications. His first book, Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, was published in 2008 by Gotham Books. He graduated cum laude from Cornell University in 2000. He lives in Manhattan.
“There is a particular genus of teenagers who break into song spontaneously with their friends, know all the words to Rent and/or Wicked, and will do anything for a taste of being onstage in front of an audience. They’re called theater geeks, and I am a card-carrying member of their ranks. I’d have killed to go to Stagedoor Manor as a kid. After reading Mickey Rapkin's fascinating, hilarious new book on ‘my kind,’ I feel like I spent an unforgettable summer there. It’s a joyous and touching book. And no one’s gonna bring it doooowwwwnn!” —Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights
“A penetrating and deeply entertaining study of theater and ambition, but more importantly an intimate portrait of youthful obsession. Theater Geek made me wish I could go back to the time when all my friends thought they would make something beautiful someday.” —Benjamin Nugent, author of “American Nerd: The Story of My People”
“As a former child actor with my own dashed dreams of fame, I was overcome with envy reading about the enchanted goings-on at Stagedoor Manor. Mickey Rapkin’s fascinating account is as much about the details of this quirky theatre camp as it is about how teenagers cope with talent, ambition and that fleeting amount of time before they become adults.” — Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, author of When Skateboards Will Be Free
“If you’re in the market for a field guide to the musical theater fanatic in your life, look no further! If, for any reason, you’re not in the market for such a thing, Mickey Rapkin’s Theater Geek is about to change that. His wonderful journey into the heart of the ‘Stagedoor Mafia’ will make you want to find your very own theater geek to love. Or, at the very least, someone who can appreciate a quality production of Cabaret.” —Sloane Crosley, author of I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number
"A light-hearted look inside Stagedoor Manor." -Library Journal
“In his wonderful new book about the history of the camp, THEATER GEEK, Mickey Rapkin recounts Stagedoor’s colorful history and takes us on a backstage tour of the lives of young, real-life drama queens….There are times, even today, when I see a great piece of theater—or my eyes tear up from some visual display of unconditional love—that I cannot help but daydream about going back. And Rapkin’s book took me there.” —Zach Braff, Vanity Fair
"An unabashed love letter to a facility that remains 'a microcosm of the New York theater scene.'" -Booklist