Theater Camp: Is the Comedy Movie Inspired by a Real Life Story?

Directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, ‘Theater Camp’ is a comedy-drama movie centered around AdirondACTS, a theater camp in upstate New York run by Joan. However, when she suddenly slips into a coma, it falls upon her ignorant son, Troy, to take charge and ensure the camp continues running. Nevertheless, given his inexperience, he relies on the misfit teachers, including Amos and Rebecca-Diane, to run the show. Soon, it falls upon Troy and the teachers to devise a plan and save the camp from disgrace on the opening night of the season’s production.

Featuring hilarious performances from a stellar ensemble comprising Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, and Jimmy Tatro, the satirical comedy movie entertains throughout with its eccentric yet relatable characters. Besides, the lifelike depiction of a theater camp and the problems that can arise while managing it make one wonder if ‘Theater Camp’ is based on true events.

Theater Camp is Shaped by Real Experiences of Childhood Friends

‘Theater Camp’ is partially based on a true story. The directorial debut of Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, the movie’s script was penned by the duo in collaboration with Ben Platt and Noah Galvin, who also star in it. Interestingly, all four writers have known each other for a long while, with Gordon and Platt being friends since they were three and meeting at a youth theater camp. Besides, all four have worked on stage with each other and have thus based the movie on their experiences in the theater industry.

It was in 2017 that the four decided to team up for a project and made a short film about a musical theater camp starring some kids from Galvin’s former performing arts high school in Manhattan. In an interview with NewsTimes, Platt shared, “It seemed like the most natural world for us to jump off the ledge into together as this comedy collective for the first time. We all felt like it really suited us tonally and emotionally. It was exactly the kind of thing we wanted to make. (The short) was quite a janky, very fast, very, very, very cheap, quick little moment. But it definitely set off an alarm in all of us.”

Eventually, the production houses approved the short film to be turned into a feature film, and the four began transforming the script to fit the big screen. Elaborating on how the movie is mainly based on their experiences in the theater world and stories they heard from friends, Lieberman said, “Theater is a world of people who are so absurd and in their own worlds. You can get away with them doing things that are ridiculous. But you also want to find a way to ground it.” Furthermore, Gordon believes that the movie’s idea comes from the concept of improvisation.

In another interview with Variety, the writer-director said, “You always have ten minutes to make a scene your own — to do an improv version. I’ve always had this dream of, ‘What if the whole movie was those ten minutes?’… “They just questioned, how could we make an improvised movie with theater? Is theater something that people even want to watch?” On top of it, Gordon spoke about her specific cinematic inspirations for ‘Theater Camp.’ The actress stated the 1996 mockumentary comedy movie ‘Waiting for Guffman’ and movies by directors like John Cassavetes and Robert Altman gave her the idea for Theater Camp.’

Essentially, ‘Theater Camp’ is a tribute by Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Ben Platt, and Noah Galvin to their time together as youngsters doing theater. On top of it, it highlights how theater is a place where one can be their authentic self and also end up finding their tribe, just as the four writers did. Yet, while the movie heavily takes inspiration and references from their memories and real-life experiences, the characters and central narrative are purely fiction. The four writers have used their own theater journeys and friendship as a base and crafted an entertaining storyline full of absurdist humor and satire.

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