Want a Change Next Summer? Try Theatre Camp!

When summer vacation arrives every May (or June), parents everywhere scramble to think about ways to kick their kids out of the house. With no more school, homework, or classes to attend, no self-respecting mother or father would want to torture themselves with having to take care of their kids during the whole day for three months out of the year.

Hence, the popularity of summer camp comes to light. Kids need something to do during the summers. They aren’t old enough to get a job (but then again, in this economy, who can find a job?) and can’t really take care of themselves. Paying a babysitter to watch over little Suzy and Billy can get costly after a while. So why not dump them off to an organized camp that takes the burden of having to entertain them all day off your shoulders?

The choices for which summer camp to send Suzy and Billy to are plentiful. There are a vast array of options ranging from traditional sports to hiking, craft making, water skiing, pottery, glass blowing, religious themed gatherings (think “Jesus Camp”), nature exploring, and anything related to the performing arts.

Sports are, of course, a typical cliché of summer camp lore. Sports like baseball, soccer, football, basketball, and hockey are good ways to train your kids with skills in physical athleticism, teamwork, and hard work. And what parents wouldn’t want their kids to learn a little bit of that? Besides, they might grow up to become the next LeBron James.

But sports doesn’t really allow you to express any form of creativity. There are those who argue that sports is an art, but those arguments run pretty thin after a while. How many times can you hit a baseball and make it look cool? Home runs do look spectacular at first, but seeing a hitter casually job around the bases is just so boring. Baseball is a great sport, but it’s limiting in what it can teach someone to become.

That goes for all sports, to an extent. The ultimate goal of any athlete is to become the best that they can be. They want to win and win as often as they can. That’s basically it. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it can get a bit monotonous. Any endeavor where there’s hard and fast rules doesn’t really allow you to explore any creative outlet.

But enough about bashing sports. I say this because I never played sports when I was little. I wasn’t very good at catching a ball and still can’t really do anything too amazing. But where kids these days should really consider spending their summer is at theatre camp.

Theatre camp? Yes, a summer camp dedicated to the dramatic arts. Sounds nerdy, but it is. There’s an old joke that kids who can’t catch a football are then signed up for band camp because sitting around and playing an instrument takes no athletic prowess at all. There might be some truth in that joke.

But theatre camp is something that I actually did when I was little. As kids, myself and many others would spend our summers indoors practicing our lines, going over our blocking, and learning the basics of the theatrical arts. As a result, I think we’ve developed better social, verbal, and professional skills then kids who learned how to hit a ball all day.

Theatre is a team sport. There are many components that go into putting on a production. There are actors, directors, producers, lighting designers, set designers, set builders, a stage manager, grips, assistants, a prop master (or mistress), a costume master (or mistress), a costume builder, makeup artists, special effects designers, light board/soundboard operators, house manager, playwright, photographer/graphic designer, box office manager, and many other jobs. Putting on a show, obviously, takes more than one person. And these are roles that children are learning at these camps.

Granted, most kids are learning the acting portion of the theatrical process, but as they get older, they start to realize that they are only one part in a very large machine. Very much like how we all function in society. In order for society to operate, we need doctors, lawyers, writers, accountants, teachers, students, caretakers, storeowners, architects, transporters, entertainers, politicians, and every other kind of job imaginable (reality TV star does not count).

Besides, kids get to learn that they can become part of something that is bigger than themselves. Too often we get caught up in individual achievements and forget that people could not live without other people. I’ve worked at summer theatre camps as a director and have seen first hand how kids learn that it is not always about them. It is about the group. It is about the big picture. We need to teach our kids more of these lessons.

So before you consider sending your child off to band camp or water rafting camp next time summer rolls around, consider this: are there alternatives to just the same old sack of potatoes? Or are we stuck with hoping that if our kids learn how to dribble a basketball for three months it would help them later lead productive adult lives? Take a chance and sign up little Billy or Suzy to be in a musical, or a Shakespearean production, or a mime troupe.

Know what? They may actually like it. Imagine that.

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