Breaking, Scattering, Accelerating

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In Japanese culture there is an aesthetic understanding known as Jo-Ha-Kyū. Easily mistaken for the more western idea of Beginning-Middle-End, the principle of Jo-Ha-Kyū is actually more akin to a wave in the ocean than that of a fairy tale. With a beginning, middle and end there is a finite constraint on time and space. Nothing existed before and nothing will exist after; the middle is sandwiched between two walls. 

Alternatively, the Jo is an impulse, the Ha a break or scattering, and the Kyū is a rapid acceleration. Rather than serving as walls, the Jo and Kyū are actually one in the same, or shared. The beginning of one is the ending of another. Furthermore, within every Jo-Ha-Kyū is in fact another Jo-Ha-Kyū. In Japanese theatrical traditions, a festival would contain a Jo-Ha-Kyū, each play within the festival the same, each scene within the play, each line within a scene, each word… you see where this is going.

But camp. Why am I writing about theatre theory on our blog about summer camp?

Yesterday we began our second session of 2019. It comes quickly on the heels of our first session show day, an exhausting (and very hot) celebration of five plays that ranged from a site-specific Mamma Mia! to a brand new play to an outdoor Shakespeare In Love. It is somewhat challenging for staff and campers alike to both end an intense experience and begin a new one in such a short period of time. With our traditional understanding of these moments we would habitually slow down, let the moment linger and then allow ourselves to exhale, relaxing into a sense of completion.

Chris Murrah  Senior Director

Chris Murrah
Senior Director

What we challenge our staff and campers to do is to actually accelerate through this ending and into the next moment, carrying the energy of the previous moment into whatever comes next. Our staff are energized for the next session, carrying memories of first session into openness for new experiences. Our campers who are still at camp are doing the same, knowing that their fondness for and missing of friends who have gone home is news of the certainty that more bonds will be formed this session. And, our campers who have returned to default worlds of home are encouraged to seek out ways to share the Joy, Community, Creativity and Gratitude they were able to practice these last three weeks.

Tech Specs: Life Backstage

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I never considered myself a visual artist. Drawing was never my strong suit (no, really, I couldn’t draw anything), and coloring inside the lines always proved challenging. Growing up as a performer, I never considered that technical theatre might be something I was good at, or even interested in. It was not until I worked on my first tech crew in high school that I started to explore and develop my skills as a visual artist. I will never forget how I felt after finishing the first thing I ever built: it was a set of bushes cut out of plywood for a high school play. I had never used a jigsaw before, I had barely worked in a scene shop, and yet, in front of me, stood a set piece that I had built myself.

I have the privilege of working with our tech campers at Acting Manitou. These campers, of any and all skill level, choose to spend their summer working in the theater with our designers and technical staff on all of our festival shows. Some focus on scenic construction, some on costumes, some on lights, but all have the opportunity to dip their toes in each department. These campers work on a variety of projects with the tech crew and are so instrumental to the production process at Acting Manitou. Acting Manitou is an incredibly collaborative place, and in production our tech campers are vital to this collaboration. We work together, brainstorm ideas, and problem solve as a group. As the session goes on and we move into tech week, these campers watch their creations come into full view, and they see the worlds they have helped build be brought to life.

But our tech curriculum extends beyond the production of our shows. The skills one learns working in production extend beyond the stage, and have deeply practical applications. Early in the session, our costume designer led our tech campers in a sewing workshop. At the end of the class, each camper had a small bag that they had made by hand. Last week I taught a masterclass in carpentry. At the end of 80 minutes each camper had a small bench to take home. I watched a camper’s face light up as she put the final screws into her bench and realized she had just constructed a piece of furniture. Even our more experienced tech campers were elated upon the completion of this project. Seeing their reactions reminded me of my younger self and of one of the main reasons I love working in scenic construction: the moment when you realize you have created something — something physical, concrete, functional — out of nothing.

Gillian Gold, Master Carpenter

Gillian Gold, Master Carpenter

I always knew I was a performer, but after five years of working in the scene shop at Acting Manitou I now consider myself a technician and a visual artist as well. Every summer I return I learn more — from our production staff and our tech campers alike. These young technicians and artists expand my creativity in ways I couldn’t imagine, and many go on to work in technical theatre throughout high school and college. Some even come back to Acting Manitou as staff members to work with our production team — one of my campers from my first summer as a counselor in 2015 is now a carpenter with me in the scene shop. Our designers, technicians, and tech campers are some of the most creative, dedicated, excited people I’ve been lucky enough to work with. Strong theatre communities are built on on the passion, love, dedication, and artistry of every department, and Acting Manitou is one of the strongest theatre communities I know.

Art? What is art?

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Yesterday, the campers left the boundaries of Acting Manitou for the Trip Day that we take every session. We started by heading to Camp Manitou – a sports-focused camp and our neighbor through the woods.

The campers had been joyfully, doggedly creating art at Acting Manitou in their shows and classes and had earned a day of respite. But that didn’t seem to stop them from diving headlong into the joys of trip day. To be clear, none of what we did at Camp Manitou – or later, at Boothbay Harbor – could be classified under the traditional categories of artistic creation as we have come to expect it here; there was no painting, no sculpting.

Arts that go beyond being a performer and further into being human.

But, though, not traditional, I saw the practice of other types of art on our day out of camp. Arts that they learn within their shows, cabins and community here. Arts that go beyond being a performer and further into being human.

The art of determination. During our trip to Camp Manitou, we got to stop by the custom-made American Ninja Warrior training course. The course features about ten different events from the classic television show. Almost everyone’s favorite event was the Warped Wall. It was the biggest obstacle by far, stretching over twenty feet in the air like a giant wooden tongue reaching toward the clear blue sky. Camper after camper attempted to scale the wall, racing up the bottom of the tongue before leaping as high as they could to reach for the ledge at its top. Many campers shot up the wall and grabbed the ledge, but were unable to throw themselves over. They hung there for minutes at a time, desperately scrabbling with their feet in an attempt to gain some purchase to push themselves up. And while campers as young as eleven were able to conquer the wall, some eventually let go and slid back to earth. But even before they hit the ground, they were breathlessly shouting about how they wanted to try again. 

The art of fun. Two nights ago, during one of our evening activities, Thanos – the antagonist of the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – visited camp, and told us he had used the Infinity Stones to banish several staff members and CITs from this plane of existence. To save their friends and mentors, the campers had to embark on a series of six quests that challenged their bodies and minds. Most campers – especially the superhero fans among us – took to the task immediately and passionately. Many of the counselors and staff did the same, dressing up as wildly inventive heroes like Floral the Red Menace, Florida Man, and Bunny Elliot. Other campers struggled a bit more to jump into the activity; it had been a long day, followed by a long week, and many of the activities challenged the campers’ imaginations and problem solving skills. In moments where the campers struggled to keep up their spirits, I was reminded that even something as simple as having fun is a bit of an art. Our campers are surrounded by opportunities to have fun with their friends. Inundated with opportunity as they are, it can be hard to find moments to relax and recharge. Which brings me to…

The art of rest. Usually, during our daily periods of free time, there’s a fair bit of activity at camp. A few of the kids are usually down playing at the Ping-Pong tables, while others face off in the Gaga Pit. Others might be playing theater games on the Great Lawn, or chatting as they walk laps around the camp. But today, a quiet sense of calm permeated the camp. It swept down to the campers reading books next to the pool, and up to the ones basking in the sun near the Pavillion. And I was reassured that our campers have taken the time they need to recover so that they are ready, willing, and excited to face the challenges ahead as we head towards show day.

A Path to Empathy Through Dance

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At Acting Manitou we don’t set limitations on who can take certain electives- campers are encouraged to sign up for any elective that piques their interest, even if they have no prior experience. There is no audition for learning, a willingness to try is the only pre-requisite for our classes. Because of this, each class is often filled with campers of a wide array of backgrounds and skill levels and our teaching artists are skilled at, and supported in, creating curricula that allows for learning at all experience levels.

While they all varied greatly in experience and skill level, every camper in that class was working to improve by just 1%.

For the first round of electives, I had the privilege of teaching a dance class that focused on emoting and storytelling through dance. My class had a mix of students of different skill levels, some of whom have trained in ballet their whole lives, and some of whom have never once taken a dance class. It is a daunting task to create a curriculum for students with such a wide range of abilities, but the task becomes effortlessly easy when you have a group of campers who are willing to take risks, fail, and learn. Their willingness to dive into something challenging astounded me.

While they all varied greatly in experience and skill level, every camper in that class was working to improve by just 1%. I can proudly say that every camper improved over the course of the class. Some improves in their technical abilities, others in their acting and stage presence, and a large number in their ability to connect compassionately and empathetically to one another and to themselves. The energy during their elective presentation performance was electric, and they all blew me away not just from their physical execution of the movement, but in their ability to be storytellers, to connect with the audience, and to be vulnerable on stage.

Dance allows us to express ourselves in ways that are not conventionally accepted. In our society we are often told- both directly and indirectly- to stifle our emotions. We mute screams by tensing our jaw, hold back tears by shutting our eyes, and put our hands over our mouth to stop ourselves from laughing too loudly. We are expected to not show our emotions too visibly, and we have learned that some emotions and reactions must be contained and only experienced in the privacy of our own home or room. Our emotions, which are so innate and fundamental to our humanity, are often stifled and silenced.

When we dance…we allow ourselves to connect with others, to share our stories, and to be seen.

But those rules and expectations don’t apply when we dance. When we dance, we we allow those emotions to be seen and to have their place the world. We allow those emotions to flow through our muscles and take shape. We allow ourselves to connect with others, to share our stories, and to be seen. Dancing is also a means of re-engaging our mind-body connection; day in and out our minds are often racing and thinking about a multitude of things at once, but dancing allows us to bring our mind back to our body, and our body to our mind. It allows us to focus back in on our body and emotions, and to work through whatever we might be feeling that day. With dance, we enable ourselves to express whatever thoughts and emotions we are having physically. When we dance, we are storytellers; whether we are telling our own story or the story of a character, dancing allows us to convey thoughts, emotions, and narratives to an audience.

Margie Gilland,  Head Counselor

Margie Gilland,
Head Counselor

Dance means showing part of yourself; it means allowing yourself to be seen by others, and knowing that those watching are there cheering for you. The eruption of applause and roar of excitement heard after the final dance performance at elective presentations was just a small testament to the power of dance in our community. I cannot wait to continue seeing how these campers use dance and movement as a means to express their emotions, connect with others, and discover more about themselves and the world around them.

Heart and Music

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Anybody with a voice can sing. But it doesn’t take much to convince someone that they can’t. Maybe it’s getting passed up for a solo in middle school chorus. Or maybe it’s a friend’s joke when everyone’s singing along in the car. Sometimes all it takes is one incident in childhood to turn someone off of singing—or music—for the rest of their life.

For many campers at Acting Manitou, singing—especially in front of a group of people—is one of the most intimidating experiences they encounter. Starting on audition day, the campers are presented with many opportunities to showcase their voices; from the musicals and the camper talent show, to multiple singing electives and pool time jam sessions, our campers are given boundless chances to be loud and proud. But speaking as someone who still struggles with his own singing abilities (especially when it comes to harmonizing…oh boy), I know not everyone jumps at the next chance to hit the high C in Seasons of Love.

In the spirit of growth that we foster among our campers and staff, we place enormous value in trying new things. And as a musician at camp, I see time and time again that singing—and learning new instruments—is often outside many folks’ comfort zones. But what better place than summer camp to join an a cappella group or write your first song? Yesterday’s elective presentations crystallized the idea for me that people of all ages and backgrounds deserve the right to express themselves through music.

Now when I reveal that I’m a classically trained guitarist who started lessons at age five, you may roll your eyes and say, “Well it’s so much easier to start when you’re young!” I point you to my co-staff member Simon who is still in his first year of teaching himself guitar and on top of his job of running our amazing evening activities can be found every night in his room playing and studying one of his guitar books. And if unregulated, consistent practice is not up your alley, then I’ll direct you to one of my favorite artists, Amanda Palmer, and her trusty ukulele.

Spencer Lutvak, Business Manager

Spencer Lutvak, Business Manager

Amanda champions the ukulele as an instrument of the people because of its shallow learning curve and accessible price point. The lyrics to her song “Ukulele Anthem” illustrate her point nicely:
“Play your favorite cover song, especially if the words are wrong…
You can play the ukulele too it is painfully simple
Play your ukulele badly, play your ukulele loudly…
Stop pretending art is hard, just limit yourself to three chords, and do not practice daily”
And lastly, if music isn’t your thing: great! On your journey of trying new things, it’s important to learn what you don’t like. Statistically speaking, there will be way more experiences that you will dislike than ones you will like. Crossing those off the list is just as important as underlining the ones you enjoy.