Students Support Theater Camp Director


Courtesy of Amy Zhou

Beachwood Community Theater performed Matilda in 2019.

Longtime Beachwood Theater Camp Director Jill Koslen-Freireich received a phone call on April 19 from Beachwood community services director Derek Schroeder while she was attending to a family matter in Florida. 

Schroeder, who has been in his position since early 2021, informed her of his dissatisfaction with her work and the handling of the 2022 Beachwood theater camp program and fired her, saying that it was time for her to part ways with the program. 

This phone call initiated a drama that unfolded over several weeks affecting dozens of campers and camp counselors who were heartbroken by the cancellation of the camp and who rallied in support of Koslen-Freireich, culminating in a settlement with Koslen-Freireich and the mayor’s decision to reinstate Koslen-Freireich and her theater camp for just the summer. 

Going forward, there will be a new arts program.

“In 40 years, I’ve touched thousands of lives,” Koslen-Freireich said. “That’s a long time to have been running a program and to have that stripped away from me by one person who does not even know me, is infuriating.”

Schroeder claimed that Koslen-Freireich didn’t meet the deadlines in appointing staff and gathering supplies for this summer. She argues that she did have ten staff members who needed to complete the paperwork on their own, and that she already had all of the other materials. 

In 40 years, I’ve touched thousands of lives. That’s a long time to have been running a program and to have that stripped away from me by one person who does not even know me, is infuriating.

— Jill Koslen-Freireich

Freshman Amy Zhou had initially planned to work at the camp over the summer. She said she was confused when the entire situation began. 

“There were never any issues before,” Zhou said. “They sent an email detailing the reasons for camp getting canceled, ranging from low enrollment to missing staff; but they weren’t plausible.”

Zhou questions why Bison Camp, which is in the process of recruiting staff, proceeded to run this summer whereas the theater camp, which had already acquired staff, had been threatened with shutdown. 

As for the low numbers of participating students, the Cleveland Jewish News reported that the effects from the COVID pandemic could account for the decreased enrollment. The program initially saw more than 75 students pre-pandemic; however, this year, there were only 54 applicants. 

“I feel that the community theater has been a treasure in Northeast Ohio and [Shroeder] is taking away something that the people value and cherish,” Koslen-Freirleich said. “He’s hurt my name and good reputation by dragging it through the mud, stating that I didn’t have enough staff, I didn’t have supplies, but none of that is true.”

Later in April, the city council received numerous phone calls, emails, and letters. On May 2, there was even a protest led by a crowd of people who marched from the pool to city hall and attended the City Council meeting, demanding for the theater program and Koslen-Freireich to be reinstated. 

According to Council Member Alec Isaacson, the entire City Council believed that theater camp had to continue this summer with Koslen-Freireich as director. However, the City Council couldn’t use its legislative power to force Mayor Berns. It was ultimately his decision to cancel the camp. 

“Rec department employees, along with almost every other city employee, work for the Mayor, [who] has the sole power to hire and fire them,” said Council Member Isaacson. “What council did do was use our powers of persuasion over the two week time when camp was canceled to help the mayor to understand that the camp needed to be restored.”

Council meetings were also used for residents to have the time to communicate with the mayor directly.

Rachel Kantarovich, currently a freshman, a member of the theater camp since fourth grade, and a speaker at the May 2nd city council meeting, was one of the first students to be signed up for the program. 

“I was very appalled by what I was seeing,” she recalled. “None of it made sense to me, and it made me very emotional.” 

Kantarovich also believed that it was truly a personality clash between Schroeder and Koslen-Freireich that led to the turn of events.

“I just think that the way he handled it wasn’t right,” Kantarovich said. “We have bold personalities, and maybe he thought that Jill was attacking him.”

Moreover, according to Koslen-Freireich, with Mayor Berns’ approval, Schroeder is looking to create a new theater program for the children without herself as director. She commented that it was clear that Mr. Schroeder had an agenda and that he’d even contacted some of her former staff members to work for the fall show.

I’ve always found that theater has given a glimpse of hope and is a place that just feels safe. It’s become a second home.

— Freshman Rachel Kantarovich

“How would it be any different if he’s approaching my staff?” she asked. “He’s trying to replicate something that can’t even be duplicated without…myself and my philosophy.”

“He’s only held his position for a little over a year,” she remarked. “He does not understand our community and…what our community theater family desires.”

When Kantarovich found out about the initial decision to close the theater program, she emailed Schroeder, conveying her disappointment and he offered to talk to her over the phone to explain the entire situation. There, Kantarovich said that Schroeder wanted to redefine the program. 

“He told me that he wanted a different system, especially in the arts, but the way he was talking about it, it felt not much for the community and was more about what he wanted to do,” Kantarovich said. 

“He also mentioned [that] Jill wasn’t going to last forever,” Kantarovich added. “I think that’s something very inappropriate to tell a student and someone that is a member of the community.”Schroeder and the Mayor’s office could not be reached for comment. 

Kantarovich, along with other students, feels that Beachwood doesn’t always prioritize the arts, which is why Beachwood theater is incredibly important to the community. It’s definitely a place that allows members to express and combine their creativity with others. 

“Beachwood has had a history in the past of not funding and cutting some of their arts programs,” Zhou said. “Of course we are seeing some improvement because in 2018, the school [theater] program came back, but the Beachwood community theater is so important because it allows parents and kids to participate in something that they love doing while also putting on a professional performance.”

“I think it is a huge contribution to [the community],” Kantarovich said. “The arts have always been pushed back a little, and having them in Beachwood is so important because it gives students and different members of the community a different place to do something they want to do or watch.”

Additionally, many students feel that the Beachwood theater camp has helped make them into the people they are today, recounting stories of how far they’ve come in making friends, built  their confidence, and improved their performing arts skills. 

“I just enjoy being on stage and the whole [theater] community,” said sophomore Sloane Harris, another student who attended Beachwood theater camp. “I also met some of my best friends there.”

Many students look forward to attending theater camp. It allows them to do something that they love as well as providing a safe space for who they want to be. 

“I know that in my experience as a little kid, I’ve always found that theater has given a glimpse of hope and is a place that just feels safe,” Kantarovich said. “It’s become a second home.”

“It’s more about returning each year and seeing people that you normally wouldn’t see in your daily lives,” Zhou pointed out. “The counselors are doing more than just their job. That’s why I feel really confident about coming back to the camp each year because I know that everyone’s super accepting and welcoming to new and returning campers.”

“It gives you a space to open up and find yourself in different ways,” Kantarovich said. “It’s really an accepting environment for people of all ages, races, cultures, genders–whatever you identify yourself and that’s probably why it’s always been my favorite thing to do.”

I saw that drama camp was too important and special to interrupt, even for only one season. It was good to see the Mayor and Ms. Koslin-Freireich working together so that she would feel comfortable coming back for this summer.

— City Council Member Alec Isaacson

Furthermore, Kantarovich also mentioned that she gained a lot more experience in public speaking and learning to network with other people.

“It lets kids express themselves and is also a safe space for people who might not have that somewhere else,” Harris added. “You can be anyone you want to be, and no one will judge you.”

Many former students who attended Beachwood’s theater camp under the direction of Koslen-Freireich credited the camp for their youth experiences and have gone on to be very successful in the performing arts community. 

Alumni include Dan Hoy, who’s currently on Broadway, and Jessie Gill, who has been a Hollyshorts Screenplay Competition Winner and an Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition Winner. 

Ultimately, campers are still excited to return to theater camp, despite the upcoming new conditions. Koslen-Freireich will still administer the 2022 camp; however, starting in the fall, her program will be replaced with Schroeder’s new performing arts initiative.

Koslen-Freireich says she chose to settle with the city rather than pursuing a lawsuit. This way, she will be able to run the camp for one more summer to be there for the kids. 

She also mentioned that she’d received a number of offers to work elsewhere.

“This has been a life-long career beginning when I was in my mid-20s, where I put my heart and soul into the community theater and the theater camp,” she said. “To have this taken from me has been devastating, more importantly to be taken from the community has been a serious mistake.”

While Council Member Isaacson is happy to see the theater camp be reinstated this summer because of how important it was to the community, he wishes that the camp hadn’t been canceled in the first place. 

“I saw that drama camp was too important and special to interrupt, even for only one season,” noted Council Member Isaacson. “It was good to see the Mayor and Ms. Koslin-Freireich working together so that she would feel comfortable coming back for this summer.”

Zhou hopes that Koslen-Freireich will be remembered more and that there will be more students who apply so that they can gain the last memorable experience of her program. 

“Jill’s been doing it for so many years,” Zhou said. “I’m hoping to see that she can retire from this program as a respected person whose legacy will be remembered forever in Beachwood.”

It lets kids express themselves and is also a safe space for people who might not have that somewhere else. You can be anyone you want to be, and no one will judge you.

— Freshman Sloane Harris

“She shouldn’t just be fired over the phone,” she added. “I think it’s disrespectful for a person who’s spent 40 years in Beachwood.” 

Moreover, Council Member Isaacson is happy to see Beachwood’s theater students can enjoy camp they’ve been waiting for this year. He believes in the importance of Beachwood’s summer camps as they provide memorable experiences and are reasonably affordable for the community.

“I want our camps to continue to provide that high quality experience to our campers,” he said. “My council colleagues and I are looking forward to providing the resources we need to do that.”

In the future, Kantarovich hopes that not only the district, but also the city will be a bit more aware of the community’s sentiments before they decide to cut a program. The theater program was canceled two months prior to its start in June, and when the Mayor decided to reopen the program, there were only 34 kids enrolled according to Koslen-Freireich. 

“Beachwood has always strived for this kind environment where it was really all about the community, the children,” she said. “[Moving] forward, I hope that Beachwood, especially the people running the city, can be a bit more selfless in putting the community’s needs first rather than their own thoughts and beliefs.”