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Acting Drama/Theater Performing Arts

Why Kids Love and Hate Theatre Camps

What makes theatre camps, acting camps, and performing arts camps applauded in some cities — and scoffed in others? Our author explores what happened in two nearby towns, and what theatre programs can learn from the kids’ reactions.

By Katherine Teel

For as long as anyone can remember, Mt. Vernon Community Theatre (MVCT) in Mount Vernon, Mo., has always done a summer musical. What’s more, they took great care to choose shows that could make use of a large cast of local young people  —  especially teenagers. Since Mt. Vernon is nearly an hour from any other theatre program, the teens looked forward to the summer musical all year. However, recently MVCT’s contract for its theatre space came into question, and it looked like the summer musical might not happen.

MVCT’s board of directors knew that many local teens were looking forward to being in the show; if the show wasn’t going to happen, MVCT wanted to do something else for the kids. “What about a theatre camp?” they wondered. Other acting programs for kids offered a week’s worth of lessons and rehearsals that culminated in a show for parents at the end of the week. Could they do something like that?

Why Some Kids Hate the Idea of Theatre Camp

To the board’s surprise, the teen response to this proposal was lukewarm at best.

“I guess I’d go,” said high-school junior Whitney VanderGrift. “I mean, all my friends are in theatre. I wouldn’t want to be the only one not involved.”

Other students were more outspoken  —  and negative. “No way,” said senior Sabra Teel. “I’m finally out of school, I don’t want to take any more classes. I just want to do shows. I just want to be onstage with my friends. I know where to go if I want to take classes. I don’t want to spend my summer doing that.”

Needless to say, the MVCT board scrapped the idea of doing summer theatre camps for teens. But it was puzzling  —  in the closest city of Springfield, Mo., about 45 minutes away, the community theatre held multiple sessions of theatre camps each summer, serving all age groups and skill sets. Media coverage of those programs quote students who are thrilled to be there, and wouldn’t spend their summers any other way. The question is, “Why?”

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Why Other Kids Love the Theatre Camp Experience

“I go three or four times,” sophomore Wesley Andrews said about theatre camps in Springfield. “There’s just so much to learn, and the directors really make it a great time. Our group is like a family.”

Sophomore Jessica Barlow agreed. “Every time I go to theatre camp, I learn more techniques and skills that I can use in my auditions. I don’t think I’d have gotten any parts without all these classes and camp sessions.”

Even when presented with these perks, the MVCT performers aren’t impressed  —  and they aren’t convinced that summer theatre camps offer any benefit. “People in these camps think you have to do them to succeed in theatre, and they don’t really believe that anyone from a small town can be as good as they are anyway,” asserted Elise Jarvis, a singer/actor who has held significant roles in several local productions. “But we’re here putting on shows that are every bit as good as theirs. That’s how you really learn.”

Learning What Needs to be Learned

Today, the MVCT board members can see both sides of  this issue. “We all have a lot to learn,” says MVCT vice-president David Kloppenborg. “Nobody should think that they already know everything  —  especially teens. But teens are very involved in our program, so we teach what they need to know as we rehearse a show. And we have some teens who are extremely good already.”

Obviously there are pros and cons to summer camps, and some kids will get more out of them than others. If you’re looking for summer theatre camps because your child is interested in performing, make sure your child sees theatre camp as an opportunity to develop his or her talent  —  not as just more classes in a life already full of classes. Anyone can get something from a theatre camp, but the camper’s attitude going in can make all the difference.

ActivityHero.com can help you “audition” the local theatre camps, theatre classes, and other acting and performing arts experiences in your area. For a list of 20 questions to ask when seeking the best theatre camp or theatre program for your child, read “Looking for the Right Theatre Classes for Your Child? Read This Before You Act!”

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Drama/Theater Performing Arts

Looking for an “Act-ive” Activity for the Whole Family? The Stage Is Calling!

“Ya got trouble, with a capital T” when your family time feels scattered and you’re not connecting with your kids. Here’s how The Music Man helped this single mother strengthen family bonds — while doing something special for herself.

By Katherine Teel

For the past four years, two things have happened every summer. The Hazelton family takes a trip from Missouri to North Dakota, and they are involved in the summer musical in their Missouri hometown.

“Those two things,” says mom of three Laurie Hazelton, “really got us through some hard times. Our extended family is in North Dakota, and it’s important to me that the kids know where their roots are. But our theatre family…they were really there for us when we were going through some difficult things.”

Making an Entrance into Musical Theatre

Four summers ago, the arts council of the Hazeltons’ small Missouri town decided to put on a musical — The Music Man. There had been a few plays done in town over the years, but nothing organized … and nothing this big.

“There must have been sixty people in the cast,” Laurie recalls. “High schoolers, older people, kids … I had no idea there were so many talented people in this little community.”

Laurie has always loved singing, and she wanted to try out for the show. The Hazelton kids — Maison, Hallee, and Ty — were 11, 8, and 6 at the time, and since the kids’ dad lived in another town, Laurie realized that either all of them participated in the show, or none of them could.

“The younger ones just wanted to stay with me, so they were no problem,” Laurie says. “But Maison was having none of it. I tried everything I could think of to get him to agree to be in the show, but he absolutely refused to get up on stage.”

Fortunately, Laurie knew that what happens onstage is only a part of the whole theatre experience. Maison was quickly tapped to serve on stage crew, and he spent the summer lifting set pieces, flats, and furniture — all in the pitch blackness of a dark stage between scenes. It was backstage that Maison found his niche; he has served on the stage crew every summer since, and even trained with the stage manager in the most recent production.

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The Extended Family of Musical Theatre

“That summer, we needed the theatre,” Laurie remembers. “We needed warm, caring people to be around. We needed something important to do that would take our minds off our difficulties. We needed tasks that would let us spend time together as a family, and that would bring the kids positive attention and affirmation. Nothing can do that like working on a show together. Your family becomes part of the larger family of the show.”

After that summer, several cast members formed a new theatre group that has carried on the tradition of the summer musical. Laurie was elected to its board of directors, and every summer since, the Hazelton family can be found in the city’s theater facility — acting, singing, dancing, and moving sets.

Building Character and Family Bonds — on Stage and Off

The Hazeltons aren’t the only ones who find value in the theatre as a family activity. At least a half a dozen entire families are involved in the summer musical, and a dozen more parent-child or sibling-sibling combinations. Some are even multi-generational — Laurie’s mother, Polly, has been on stage, and often works on the costume crew, and her father, Bill, puts in hours building the sets and dismantling them again when the show is over.

“It’s a really great way for families to spend time together,” Laurie says. “Parents can be with other adults while still keeping close to their kids, and kids learn skills that can’t be taught any other way. In our first show, my two youngest were so shy they’d hide behind people on stage, and now they have lead roles and singing solos. And Maison has gone from doing crew work to being Assistant Stage Manager — the kind of responsibility he’d never get in school. They’ve really learned to believe in themselves.”

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Ready to Take Your Family to the Theatre?

Community theatres exist all over the United States, and they are constantly looking for people with every imaginable skill set. They need help creating tickets and programs, sewing costumes, building sets, finding props, raising funds, and much more. Whether you and your children shine onstage or excel backstage, you can find an important role in a theatre community.

Visit  your local theatre to learn more, or find a nearby theatre group on the website for the American Association of Community Theatre.

Get your kids in performing arts! Set the stage with local theatre classes, acting classes, and performing arts classes in your area.

If your kids would like a little more experience before looking into community theatre, consider signing them up for local theatre classes, acting classes, and performing arts classes. Many programs welcome adult assistance with set construction, costuming, and pre-show planning. Some even offer family workshops that involve the adults as part of the curriculum.