Camp TV is a new one-hour series from The WNET Group that enables children to remotely experience summer camp, for free, from the comfort of their own homes. Debuting Monday, July 13 on public television (check local listings), each episode will also be available to stream at camptv.org.
Every episode of Camp TV begins with a welcome song, followed by the announcement of the “theme of the day,” which might range from “silly hat day” to “silly sock day,” or even “camping day” to “backwards day.” Each episode features a storytelling segment, too. Broadway performer Zachary Noah Piser (Wicked, Dear Even Hansen) serves as a host, guiding campers through a variety of activities involving the arts, such as storytelling, writing and movement. Campers will also get to explore nature, math and science as they learn through play, fun and positivity. To bring Camp TV to viewers, The WNET Group partnered with a number of prestigious cultural, educational and environmental institutions, including: Wildlife Conservation Society; Brooklyn Botanic Garden; Franklin Institute; Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum; Liberty Science Center; Lincoln Center; New York Botanical Garden; and the New York Public Library—to name just a handful! Major funding for Camp TV has been provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding is provided by Joan Ganz Cooney.
Zach Piser recently discussed his experiences working on Camp TV via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in becoming an actor and how did you find yourself in theater?
Zachary Noah Piser (ZNP): I was a late theatrical bloomer! I always loved attending theatre with my parents growing up in the Bay Area, but I was first and foremost a competitive swimmer and a fierce nerd obsessed with all-things science. Although I dabbled in choir and Shakespeare club, it really wasn’t until I played Jean Valjean in Les Misérables my senior year in high school (possibly the shortest Valjean ever) that I fully realized performing gave me a feeling I couldn’t find anywhere else. I then decided to attend Northwestern University in Chicago because it was one of the only schools that encouraged interdisciplinary studies, specifically between arts and science. By the end of my four years at Northwestern, I felt equipped and ready to move to NYC and give being an actor in the real world a try!
MM: How did you get big breaks into major theatrical productions?
ZNP: My first big theatrical break came when I received the life-changing call from my agent that I was going to play Boq in Wicked on Broadway about three months after graduating from Northwestern! To be honest, I couldn’t tell you exactly how or why it happened, but I believe it was the perfect storm of hard work and perseverance coupled with the network I had created through prior auditions and experiences, and ultimately, being in the right place at the right time!
MM: When did you transition into television and how different is this medium from the stage?
ZNP: Camp TV marks my New York TV debut! Definitely not the circumstances I had envisioned for my introductory experience, but I couldn’t be more grateful – both for the incredible experience it’s been and for the joyful distraction it has provided from current events. It is a very different medium, especially when the series shoots during a pandemic in your one-bedroom apartment in NYC! Live theatre is just that – ALIVE! It’s 2.5 hours of no do-overs, listening and reacting to fellow cast members onstage, and feeding off of the energy of your audience, whether it be a 150- or 2,000-seat theatre. In filming Camp TV, I, of course, did not have a live audience or any (human) scene partners in my apartment, but the idea that this program could reach tens of thousands of kids every weekday was so unbelievably exciting and energizing that it allowed me to create an imaginary audience in my mind’s eye!
MM: How did you end up in children’s media and what most appealed to you about the role that you convey in Camp TV?
ZNP: Camp TV also marks my debut into children’s media. I did, however, do a TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) production at Northwestern, and I remember how meaningful it was to meet the kids in the audience afterwards and to find out that I had been a part of their very first theatrical experience. It was an amazing full circle moment for me, as I was once that kid who was completely awestruck watching my first theatrical production in San Francisco – Fiddler on the Roof, at the age of five! What most appealed to me about being the host of Camp TV was the fact that I could help bring joy to households nationwide and perhaps provide some semblance of a camp routine for kids who are missing out on those experiences this summer. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to grow up in a pandemic, so I hope our program can bring some recreational fun to kids in their own homes (and can give parents a brief break!).
MM: Which segments and/or episodes really stand out to you and why?
ZNP: Every episode is special in its own way! I always love when I get to create a fun craft with viewers, like a diagram of moon phases with cookies, friendship bracelets, or fortune tellers, because those activities bring me right back to my childhood! Personally, I LOVE to cook, so the cooking episode was also a TON of fun to shoot; I mean, who wouldn’t love making frozen chocolate banana penguins?
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
ZNP: A loaded question for an actor in the era of COVID-19! My immediate goal is to get back on a Broadway stage as soon as I can, while simultaneously ensuring the safety of both the cast & crew and the audience! Past that, I’ve always dreamed of originating a role in a brand-new Broadway show. And ultimately, I want to perform in as many mediums, genres, and even countries, as I can!
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To learn more, visit the official website of Camp TV: camptv.org