Summer is half-way over and by now, you’ve probably had your fair share of trips to the pool, outdoor bbq gatherings and maybe even a watermelon seed-spitting contest or two…But what about indulging in that which is at its most rampant, magical and free in the summertime? Your imagination! At ZACH Theatre’s camps, creativity is in full swing this summer and we’re celebrating with wizards, dragons, Shakespeare, Broadway and more!
This summer, I have traveled to a far away magical circus with a group of amazing ‘Imagination Exploration’ campers, seen a rock band and a pop band join forces in their very own rock opera during a phenomenal week of ‘Create-A-Play’ camp and helped a band of fairies and magical forest creatures help lull Queen Titania into a magical ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as part of a ‘Shakespeare Intensive.’ And those were only a few of the weeks I have taught this summer!
Although my official title at ZACH this summer is one of a teacher, I feel like ‘guide’ would be better suited to the role I have played in these amazing week-long camps. I am always overjoyed to introduce the campers to specific skills that make them stronger performers,such as movement for the stage, techniques for warming up and projecting their voices or analyzing Shakespearean text. However, it is when I hand over the reigns to them to develop and create their own work that I truly see these campers delightfully take charge and begin to employ their new theatrical skill sets. I have been consistently in awe of the freedom of creativity and brainstorming that I have witnessed in camps this summer, from creating entire plays about singing pickles to imagining deep sea worlds and spending the week exploring them.
In our ‘Imagination Exploration’ camps, the focus of the week is not to have a performance by week’s end but rather to invite our campers into a themed-week where they spend their days devising a world of their own imagination and a character within that world. They then solve problems and challenges throughout the week that require theater skills, fun risk-taking and most importantly, stretching their imagination! In a week ‘Under the Bigtop’ I had a group of ‘circus wizards’ develop their own wizard-characters and magical powers and by Friday they had used them to brake a sneaky sorceress’s curse which mixed up all the circus acts! During our final class, parents and friends were invited to watch them undo the final part of the curse and transform from their wizard selves into the circus acts! Seeing the campers in awe of the journey they had traveled and what they had accomplished made us all feel truly magical indeed.
The focus on teamwork, creative problem-solving and being open to your own outrageous ideas and the ideas of others is at the heart of every week-long ZACH summer camp. In our rock-star themed week of ‘Create-A-Play’ I watched multiple groups of campers write and perform their very own rock musicals (with original songs!) over the course of just one week. The shows ranged from stories about a pickle-hungry girl to an overzealous pop star and her DJ panda sidekick to a battle of the bands that involved witches and wizards and every story was a completely collaborative effort. Although the performances were stellar, I was most blown away by the ‘devising sessions’ in which the campers developed their stories and turned them into scripts and songs with the help of their teachers and a professional musician. The students built upon each others’ ideas, were supportive, took storytelling risks and improvised scenarios to write dialogue. This process of developing original work, which often takes months for theater professionals, was accomplished in just one week because of the remarkable teamwork these campers exhibited.
With so many campers and teachers indulging their imaginations all summer long, the energy that develops around ZACH theatre during camp is truly contagious. Teachers are humming along to songs the campers have created, professional staff can’t help but comment on how much fun everyone seems to be having and sometimes campers show up in homespun costumes for the day much to the delight of their fellow campers because they ‘felt like it.’ While watching a Friday sharing of one the rock musicals, a camper who’s rock star alter ego was named ‘Heavy Metal Jimmy Hendrix, Jr.’ leaned over and whispered to me in his thick, faux-English accent. ‘When do you think I should come back?’ ‘To camp, you mean?’ I whispered back to him, inquisitively. He nodded intently. ‘When would you like to come back?’ I asked. He took a moment to thoroughly consider it. ‘As soon as possible, I think,’ he whispered confidently. ‘As soon as possible.’
Cassadie Petersen is a regular teacher here at ZACH during our Summer Camp season and a familiar face to those of you who saw The Cat In The Hat. You can read about her experience as “the fish” of The Cat In The Hat here.