Magic

A Full Technicolor Shock

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On one of the last nights of camp every summer, we have a campfire in the woods. We sit as a community and enjoy the fire, the natural world around us, each other’s company for a little while, and then each CIT (our oldest campers) speaks for a few minutes about whatever they’d like. This sometimes takes the form of advice, or a memory, but most often it’s a thank-you to camp. My second year as a camper, a CIT spoke about how at camp, we can feel like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Kansas suddenly becomes Oz, the sepia-toned “real world” becoming a Technicolor fantasy. She shared her fear of going back to New Jersey after camp, having to retrace Dorothy’s journey back to black and white. But, she said, it is our responsibility to carry that rainbow way of seeing things back home with us: it’s no good having an Oz if it’s only in the summers, only for some of us.

I think everyone who comes to camp must have some version of that feeling: the arrival, the theater games on the lawn, the way we’re all encouraged to be our truest, most authentic selves — not just the selves we might default to, but the heightened, imagined, aspirational, mutable versions of ourselves that fill our dream worlds. At camp we get to be rock stars, heroes, champions, celebrated for being exactly who we are — and that’s before we even consider the shows, where we might be villains, pirates, queens, gods, witches, or (most frightening of all) teenagers exactly like us. Full Technicolor, shocking every time the door of that house opens and we walk with Toto into a field of wildflowers.

Zack Elkind, Director

Zack Elkind, Director

But as that CIT reminded me at the campfire, we don’t have to leave that way of seeing the world behind when we leave camp in July or August. Camp isn’t a location, a collection of buildings — and it isn’t really even a group of people, since we all grow up and eventually stop coming back to camp. I think it’s a way of seeing the world, a certain tilt of the head when looking at things. A willingness to accept everyone for who they are; leading with curiosity, not prescriptiveness; a love of theater and the power it has to activate the best in all of us. These are things we learn at camp, and return to camp to keep honing. But that way of seeing the world — in the full color it is, not the sepia it sometimes appears to be — can come home with us too, and after a summer at camp, you can see all year long in vibrant color.

The Magic of Play

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Today I stepped out of my usual duties as Evening Activities Coordinator to choreograph the stage combat for one of our shows – His Dark Materials, directed by Zack Elkind. 

I arrived about halfway through the rehearsal and slowly worked the cast through a smattering of falls, grabs, and grapples. As the rehearsal concluded, the cast showed me what they had been working on before I arrived. For those unfamiliar with His Dark Materials, the show’s characters frequently tear holes in the space-time continuum to walk between dimensions. To represent these journeys between worlds, Zack and the cast had gotten their hands on some durable, simple, beautiful, twinkle lights. They showed me how they had used the lights to devise a variety of ways to represent the tearing of reality’s fabric. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who plan to see the show, but suffice to say that the swirling, mystical pattern of those lights is still fresh in my mind, many hours later. 

We give our campers free rein to play to their hearts content.

This wasn’t the first time this session that I was stunned by the creativity and ingenuity our campers possess. We give our campers free rein to play to their hearts content, whether in their down time, or in rehearsal, or in our daily evening activities. And they use that freedom to spin the mundane into the beautiful, the uproarious, the mystical, and the serene. Already this summer, campers have painted the simplest stones into stunning works of art. They’ve turned googly eyes and goldfish into chic runway looks. They’ve invented and tested new sports and games. And now they’ve turned twinkle lights into interdimensional gateways. As I watched the lights weave and twirl, I could see the play at the heart of what those campers did in Zack’s rehearsal room. All it takes is a bit of play to make that simple leap from A to B – from twinkle lights, to a door to another world. From this universe, to one infinitely more magical and wonderful. 

So much of theater is about finding that door from the real to the magical. How can we turn an outdoor ampitheatre into Shakespeare’s Globe? How can we make an audience see the Mediterranean Sea in a three-foot-deep pool? At what point do twinkle lights stop being twinkle lights, and become infinite? At Acting Manitou, our campers don’t have to feel limited in asking those questions. They are constantly, happily, wonderfully free to play with how the theater works, and to push it to be something more. Sometimes, the door to the next world won’t open, or it leads to a dead end. But more often, we get to play with the theater we make at Acting Manitou until we can take it all the way through that magical door, and into the theatrical world beyond. 

Simon Schaitkin, Evening Activities

Simon Schaitkin, Evening Activities

So much of theater is about finding that door from the real to the magical.

As we head into the days ahead, I’m so excited to see what the campers will think of next. They are constantly surrounded by the resources, time, and inspiration they need to make the leap to the next world. All that it takes is their continued willingness to take the jump.