In the span of eight days, the organizers of the Tree of Life Theatre Troupe hope to pull a rabbit out of their collective hat.
And a Queen of Hearts.
And Alice, too.
For the past week the Tree of Life has been hosting its annual theater camp for youngsters, ages 7 to 13, and on Aug. 9 will debut the fruit of that labor — a production of the musical, "Alice in Wonderland."
"The show has a lot of whimsy," said Michele Field, president and one of the founding members of Tree of Life. "We really love the music and the storyline of the show; it's very family friendly."
The family element is important for the Tree of Life troupe, a nonprofit founded in 1995 in South Carroll.
The troupe strives to present two productions each year, along with the annual summer camp.
Operating out of Friendship Baptist Church in Sykesville, the group has a faith element among its core missions, though Field is quick to note that the camp, and the troupe, is open to all denominations.
The summer camp, now in its eighth year, calls together campers for an intense eight days of staging, back stage work, casting and rehearsals before the curtain rises. The show is built from scratch, from auditions to the performance dates.
"It can be a challenge," said Sierra Field, 23, Michelle's daughter and the director of this year's production.
Sierra Field, a graduate of Word of Life Bible Institute in 2009, has been involved in the camp since her teens years — usually as a player or production member. But she has served as director for the past few years.
"It's exciting to be able to share the gifts that were given to me," she said. "There were so many people who encouraged my talents (in the program), and now I can encourage others."
Michele Field noted that this year's camp has a smaller number than previous editions — just 11 campers compared to about 30 last year.
"We're really not sure why the numbers are down," she said. "From what I understand, other camps in the area are down too. Perhaps it's a matter of the economy."
The smaller numbers, though, have had a dual positive outcome for those attending, she said.
First, with six local high school students serving as staff counselors, the ratio of staff to campers is 1:2, allowing for strong personal attention. Second, the fewer numbers mean that most students have multiple duties in the show, keeping them plenty busy.
"There's more double casting. The Cheshire Cat is also a flower ... the Queen of Hearts is also a dodo bird," she laughed. "The kids are really having a lot of fun."
The camp runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and involves every aspect of the production, from set design and lighting to acting and dance tips. Most of the counselors are Tree of Life veterans, Michelle Field said.
But in addition to theater work and lunch, the day also includes playtime — a segment carved out for the students to go outside and have fun. She said that's crucial not only to let kids be kids during their school vacation, but to also help them bond as friends.
"Having the time to build those relationships is really important to us," she said.
Sierra Field agreed. Even in just eight days, "they become best friends with each other," she said.
The Tree of Life Theater Troupe will present the play, "Alice in Wonderland," opening Thursday, Aug. 9, 7 p.m., at Friendship Baptist Church, 1391 Sykesville Road, Sykesville. Additional shows are on Friday, Aug. 10 at 7 p.m.; and Saturday, Aug. 11, at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $7. A portion of proceeds goes to charity — Michelle Field said the group makes a donation to the host church and other local charities, and campers also contribute to the back-to-school drive for Shepherd's Staff in Westminster.
For more information on the Tree of Life, go to http://www.treeoflifetroupe.org.