Jimmy Tatro speaking into microphone in Theater Camp


Why you need to watch the largely improvised ‘Theater Camp’

There are some promising comedies to look for this fall. Add 'Theater Camp' to the list. 


Audra Schroeder


Posted on Sep 21, 2023   Updated on Sep 27, 2023, 8:28 am CDT

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There are some promising comedies to look for this fall, in a sea of dramas (and delays): Dicks: The Musical, Totally Killer. Add Theater Camp, now streaming on Hulu, to the list. 

Theater Camp is the debut film from Molly Gordon (The Bear) and Nick Lieberman, and it grew out of a 2017 short of the same name. The script was written by Gordon and Lieberman,as well asBen Platt and Noah Galvin, so the theater-kid bonafides are there. 

The premise is a well-tread one: After the theater camp’s founder, Joan (Amy Sedaris), falls into a coma during a production of Bye Bye Birdie, her YouTuber son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) steps in to help save the camp. But he’s a bro, and doesn’t know anything about theater! Tatro continues fine-tuning the emotional-bro characters he played in American Vandaland The Real Bros of Simi Valley

Platt plays Amos, who has been at the upstate New York camp, the AdirondACTS, since he was a kid, as has best friend Rebecca-Diane (Gordon). They fill a similar role as Ben and Susie from Wet Hot American Summer, though much of their back-and-forth in the film comes from real experience

Theater Camp is framed as a mockumentary, a la Waiting For Guffman, and the jokes are what make it stand out. Much of Theater Camp is improvised, and while many of the funniest lines are theater-kid-coded, you don’t necessarily need that experience to understand the feeling of wanting to belong somewhere. Theater Camp memes have been circulating as well. 

While there is a story, it gets a bit lost halfway through. However, the parade of characters is often more engaging: Nathan Lee Graham is inspired casting as the dance coach; Ayo Edebiri stars as a new instructor who bullshitted her way into a job, and now has to teach the kids stage combat (perhaps a nod to this summer’s Bottoms); and Patti Harrison takes the role of corporate villain to absurd new heights. 

The only character I wish I’d seen more of is Glenn (Galvin), the tech who toils backstage most of the film, then steps into a starring role to save the big production, thanks to some coaching from Troy. 

Why it matters

Theater Camp got picked up by Searchlight at Sundance this year, based largely on audience reaction. And we need more comedies that clock in at 93 minutes

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*First Published: Sep 21, 2023, 6:00 am CDT

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