Theater Camp

Heart and Music


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.

The Magic of Play

The Magic of Play.jpg

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.