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Weathervane Playhouse Brings Star Wars To Akron

It’s summer camp season at Weathervane Playhouse, and there are plenty of options for kids to choose from. There’s an improv workshop, a Broadway dance camp and even a week devoted to Harry Potter. But one camp is in a galaxy far, far away.

“Finally, now I have the crystal! Wait, what does ‘Zirconia’ mean?”

The Force was strong in the 16 pre-teens who were taking part in Jedi Training Camp at Weathervane Playhouse in Akron.

“Put me over to your right! Now drop me!” said instructor Jimmy Woody – also known as Jedi Master Riest Windhunter. He teaches theater and media throughout Northeast Ohio and says there’s a reason that generation-after-generation identifies with “Star Wars.”

“I think it’s the folklore of the story: using the Force for good. There’s a bad side. There’s these great characters that you don’t see on the street: Chewbacca, C3PO. And ultimately, The Force is a thing of good. And it teaches them grounding and good values.”

Woody transported the students to a galaxy far, far away using theater games, stage combat and skills that he hopes will serve the young Jedis and Siths in the future, whether or not they pursue acting as a career.

“I just want to make them better, stronger, effective speakers. Stand grounded: not with their legs crossed. Like they want attention and that they can be respected and don’t fidget. And so use all these skills even when they have to give book reports. When I was in grad school, we had doctors and lawyers taking our lower-level classes because they were like, ‘We want to know how to be effective speakers.’”

The student perspective

Sixth-grader Dakota Seals from Copley participated in the camp -- choosing the name Darth Kitaru – and says speaking effectively will be key in his career.

“I have two choices: either be an actor, or I’ll be a cop. We learned how to parry and stuff. So a parry is like a block or a defensive move if you’re like fencing or something.”

He’s participated in other camps at Weathervane, but something was different this time according to his mother, Tina.

“I was a little surprised, I guess, that he was so enthusiastic about this. Before, when he just did a regular play, he learned his lines and he memorized but, I don’t know, he was just very passionate about this one.”

Dakota says that’s because he’s a fan of all the “Star Wars” films.

“There’s always intense light saber fights and they use The Force. The one thing that made me amazed was the fighter pilots; they were flying around in space. I think it’s because of the spacecrafts and futuristic technology.”

On-stage versus off

Jedi Camp brings some kids out of their shells. But third-grader Kendall Sendelbach’s parents say she has the same intense, talkative personality all the time. Her favorite character is R2D2, and after thinking about it for a while, she decided what she learned from Jedi Training Camp.

“That acting is like exercise. When you walk around and run, it gives you more steps, and you’re exercising while you do it.”

The kids were definitely getting in their steps during the final performance, which included a lot of audience suggestion and role-playing. In the end, all of the students got to step forward and tell the audience their warrior names, ranging from “Jedi Halo” to “Evil Banana Head.”

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Jedi Master Riest Windhunter -- aka Jimmy Woody -- taught Weathervane's Jedi Training Camp, and here asks his young charges to imitate Chewbacca.
KABIR BHATIA / WKSU
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Jedi Master Riest Windhunter -- aka Jimmy Woody -- taught Weathervane's Jedi Training Camp, and here asks his young charges to imitate Chewbacca.