Sunday, June 21, 2020

Camp Theater! (2020)

(Not an actual link.)

These early days of the COVID-19 pandemic (oh, you thought they were over) artists have had a moment of reckoning, and it has not been pretty. Arts organizations have suspended or cancelled programs and productions, cut company and staff, and in far too many cases, closed up shop entirely.

In immediate response to the stay-at-home orders, my colleagues and I at Great Lakes Theater collaborated to create virtual programming for our English Language Arts instructors, brief video “modules” for use as part of asynchronous education.

One of my favorite pieces from our early experiments included inviting fifty actor-teachers, past and present, to recite Shakespeare’s “To Be Or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet. We are currently working to anticipate the needs of our partnering teachers in the coming school year.

Ten years ago GLT began Camp Theater, a summer theater arts camp hosted at Berea-Midpark High School. My children, particularly my daughter have attended, on-and-off, since the beginning. It serves Pre-K through “rising” high school seniors.

There are a number of students who have joined us, year after year. It must mean we have been doing something right. For some of them, it is a way to get away from the usual school and societal pressure and express themselves without judgment.

It’s just two weeks, in the middle of June, kicking off the summer. Helping to facilitate this camp is a highlight of my year. And we needed to decide how to make camp happen this year in a way that kids who have already been “zoomed out” would choose to participate.

Zelda as Henry IV
Anonymous, late 16th or early 17th cent.
(National Portrait Gallery)
For the little kids, the team created brief videos that included stories, crafts and performance ideas so that parents could share them with the children to work at on their own time. It was agreed that the older campers would not be interested in another instructional video and besides, so many of them attend to see the other folks they only see here.

Last week we met for a half-hour at 10 AM every morning where they were provided with an artistic assignment to work on during the day in preparation for the next day’s work. I tried to work theater games into the mix, but they were dropped after the second day. We had over twenty campers and Zoom failed to accommodate that kind of interaction.

Just as well! They were there to work. Campers wrote short plays, they performed each others’ written work, they created costumes for brief two-person scenes from Shakespeare's "Henriad." By the end of the week, I was satisfied that we had fulfilled our mandate for this strange time; to be there for them.

And they were there for each other.

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