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as featured in The Coast News:

Acting coach nurtures
kids’ creativity with theater camps

By Lillian Cox

Kids Act founder Aleta Barthell with student Mishka Dixon. Barthell will offer four-day theatre camps for kids from Dec. 31 - Jan. 4 at the Encinitas Community Center. (No class New Year’s Day.) Photo by Hilde Stephan

ENCINITAS — Since 2002, actress, playwright and teacher Aleta Barthell has helped fill the void in arts education in local schools by offering acting classes, camps and private lessons through her program, Kids Act. 

The week of Dec. 31, she’ll present two, four-day theater camps at the Encinitas Community Center.

From 9:30 a.m. to noon, Barthell will teach playwriting to kids ages 9 to 12 who will learn the process of taking an idea and turning it into a finished play. The last day their plays will be read aloud by professional actors. The camp is being offered through the nonprofit Playwrights Project. The fee is $169 for Encinitas residents and $179 for nonresidents.

From 1 to 3 p.m., Barthell will teach acting to kids 5 to 9 through her own organization, Kids Act. Children will write an adaption of the Indian story, “The Rumor,” in a script format integrating their own ideas. They’ll also design and make the scenery and offer a performance for parents and friends. The fee is $99 for Encinitas residents and $109 for nonresidents.

Barthell’s approach to teaching includes sharing lessons from the stage that are applicable in day-to-day life, whether a student pursues a career in theater or not.

Growing up in Wyoming, Barthell said she never considered a theater career until traveling to Chicago for the first time after receiving a scholarship as a “theater cherub” at the National High School Institute at Northwestern University.

“To think you could make a living doing it was foreign to me,” she recalled.

After graduation, she went on to study theater at Northwestern University and later at the British-American Drama Academy where she studied with stage and screen actors Vanessa Redgrave, Jeremy Irons and Paul Schofield along with Earl Gister of the Yale School of Drama.

More than anything, she appreciated the freedom to explore all facets of theater from writing to set design and performing on stage.

“There are so many different tools you need to explore because what one teacher teaches may not stick with you,” she added.

One thing that stuck with Barthell was a love of motivating and teaching kids, even shy and unconfident ones. She learned this working at Project Haven in Portland, Ore., from instructor Daniel Sklar, author of “PLAYMAKING,” who emphasized, “If it comes from the heart, it will never be boring.”

“That’s what I tell my students, too,” Barthell said, looking back. “If you are engaged, it will engage others. Acting is not putting a mask on, it’s taking a mask off.”

Cecelia Kouma is executive director of the Playwrights Project.

“Aleta not only has command of artistry and what makes a good play, she has a sensitivity and compassion for students that helps them to draw on their creativity and express themselves without inhibitions,” she explained.

In addition to the Encinitas Community Center, Kids Act is offered through Lopez Ridge Community Center, St. Patrick Catholic School, Shining Stars Preschool, Rancho Encinitas Academy, Carmel Valley Rec Center, Rancho Santa Fe Community Center and New Village Arts Theatre.

“My son is taking Aleta’s class,” said Kristianne Kurner, artistic director, New Village Arts Theatre. “One thing I like is that she is not just teaching, she’s teaching them how to create. Sometimes kids are a little shy or nervous, but by the time of the performance they come out of their shells and are open and confident and excited to perform.”

For more information about the other classes, call (760) 846-6072 or visit

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