Campers and Leadership: How a Day At Camp Can Change A Life

Leadership in Action

A Story

A new camper struggles to learn complicated choreography for the upcoming Acting Manitou musical. In productions at her school, she has danced before. She even took a weekend ballet class at a local studio when she was younger. But, now, the precision in the steps that she is being asked to internalize, the exact shape of her body, her focal point and facial expression, the timing – it is the most ambitious choreography she has ever had to learn. And she has a very short amount of time in which to do it. The performance festival is in less than a week.


Pressure. She feels the time crunch running alongside her own desire to be her best. Others are working at her side, sweating towards the same objective. This is her first summer at Acting Manitou and she has never felt so challenged, so inspired, so invigorated by her art. She’s learning the true meaning of the passionate pursuit of excellence in her craft. It’s play. It’s work. It’s fun. And it’s hard. It’s exhausting and exhilarating. And she has no idea if she we will be able to do it. In so short a time. This is the good kind of pressure. She is doing this for her friends and for herself. Not because she’s being made to do it, or because society, school, rules, tell her she should. She wants this. This is the sort of pressure that creates. Greatness.

An older camper, a C.I.T., is back at Acting Manitou for her fifth and final summer, at least as a student. She is grateful for how the program has turned her into the confident, outspoken, thoughtful, collaborative, individual she is today. She wasn’t always this bold. Without the camp, she’s not sure where she would be. And she’s ready to give back.

As the younger camper sits in the rehearsal studio at the end of 3 hours of pushing herself, switching from her character shoes to sandals, ready to dip her toes in the pool before dinner, she is approached by the C.I.T. An exchange, begun by the older camper: Great rehearsal, really tough, right? Yes! You’re really getting it. Really? I thought so, how’d it feel? Fast, confusing, overwhelming honestly. Which part? Ummm…all of it. All right, you want to go over it? Really? Of course! When? How about now?


And then they’re off. At waterfront, the older camper and younger camper have setup small speakers, plugged in their music and are running through the dance, step-by-step. The younger camper is 12. The older is 17. They are friends, cast-mates, mentor and mentee. They speak from a shared vocabulary; love of theater and dedication to putting on a great show.

For the older camper, the respect she is afforded, the need to model excellent rehearsal skills, how people listen when she speaks, how she has to choose her words, how she has learned to motivate, inspire and lead, the way she interacts with the faculty on behalf of the cast – this is leadership.

After Acting Manitou, she can and will command a room, a room of politicians, or doctors, writers or construction workers, college students or actors. This student has learned how to lead and how to instruct. She has found her voice at Acting Manitou. And she is ready to share it with the world. And she has passed it down to the next generation. One day in the future, the younger camper will be drilling dance steps, more sure now, and she will see a newbie, unlacing her character shoes, and exchange will begin.