Theatre Camp

The Gift of Giving - A Counselor's Role

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My name is Sam Wheeler and I am a bunk counselor in Hwang as well as the stage manager for this summer’s production of Fun Home. This is my sixth (WOWZA!) summer here at Acting Manitou and this place, so full of all of its magic and beauty, continues to become more amazing and more filled with love every single year. Having the privilege and opportunity to attend summer camp is an incredibly important experience for the camper and being a part of building that world for them is the best part of my life.

My campers are my heroes.

I often find myself saying to my friends from school that “my campers are my heroes”, which is probably one of the truest sentences I have ever said. I am constantly in awe of the talent these wonderful humans possess and I am always learning from them. They teach me what it means to be kind, to live authentically, and to be the best version of myself possible. Every summer I have this incredible opportunity to make connections with our campers and to have even the smallest piece of the pie that helped to shape them into who they are. When camp has only been happening for a few days and you have had campers run as fast as they can on arrival day to jump into your arms for the best of reunion hugs, when you’ve had campers who were in your bunk last summer ask to have breakfast with you and insist on hugging you goodnight after Power Down, and when you’ve had the campers from your bunk this summer squeal with excitement when they realize that you are their counselor, you know that you have done your job right. Being a camp counselor is one of the things in my life that makes me feel the most like myself, and that is what makes the decision to come back each summer so easy.

I have three favorite days each session of camp: Camper Arrival Day, Dress Rehearsal Day, and Show Day. While the energy at camp is high and contagious every day, these days in particular have something special laced in there. This excitement and love that we have bursting at the seams on the days that bookend our sessions is enough to keep me fueled with our Four Ghost Lights throughout the year, and here’s why:

JOY: The rush of love you feel when campers see the “Acting Manitou at Camp Eastwood” sign. The first hugs after a long year apart. The moment everyone cheers and claps on Dress Rehearsal Day after each show when the cast enters the next room for the first time after performing. The pride you feel as you watch every camper do their thing on show day.

CREATIVITY: The way the campers hang up their fairy lights around their bunks. The amazing lives and stories and art they all have to share with us. The magic they make on and off stage.

GRATITUDE: The look on their faces when they fully absorb that they are truly back at camp. The way they let themselves lean into this home we create together. The moment when they take their bow and you feel so unbelievably lucky to know them.

COMMUNITY: The excitement every camper feels to see every other person when they first come home. The first meal together (it’s always spaghetti!). The way they applaud after every performance of every show louder and more beautiful than anything you’ve ever heard before.

I know in my heart that this choice I keep making will end up being the best of all my life’s choices.

Sam Wheeler, Counselor

Sam Wheeler, Counselor

These are the reasons, among infinite others, that make my choice to give back to this community the easiest of all my choices in life. As a former camper, turned staff member, turned camp enthusiast, I know in my heart that this choice I keep making will end up being the best of all my life’s choices. I thank you all for giving me the space to make that choice and for allowing me to be part of your child’s life. I am so grateful for all of it.

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.

The Joy of Taking Risks

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Auditions can be scary, stressful, and nerve-racking. It is often hard to stand in front of a group of people and put yourself and your abilities on the line. While this holds true for many auditions that our campers have previously experienced in other settings, Acting Manitou auditions shatter the stereotypical ideas of what auditioning means.

Audition day at Acting Manitou is a day full of joy, creativity, play, and risk taking. We consistently hear from campers that here they don’t feel like they are auditioning, but rather that they are getting to be a part of all five shows for a day. Acting Manitou is producing five incredible and diverse shows this session, and while the campers will only be cast in one show, on audition day they have the experience of being in all five shows. They get a chance to work with each director and experience for a moment what it is like to be in their show. At Acting Manitou we do not have the typical high-stress judgmental auditions that are perhaps common at schools and community theaters, but rather our auditions are opportunities for the campers to share their love of theater with their peers, counselors, and directors.

Every camper is so incredibly unique and has a wide array of talents and skillsets, and our auditions are merely a way for the campers to share those individual talents with everyone. For a whole day, our directors get to learn about everything that each camper has to offer. Our directors are so incredibly supportive, and they do everything that they can to ensure that our campers succeed ad enjoy the process. Cheers and clapping are always heard in the audition room from both the campers and directors; our community goes above and beyond on this day to support and inspire others. You’d be hard pressed to find an audition room that is more supportive, encouraging, and fun-filled than the rooms at Acting Manitou.

A beautiful thing happens when campers are in a supportive and safe environment: they show their true selves and they take risks. For some, a risk might be choosing to sing at the morning vocal auditions. For others it might be standing front and center at the dance audition. And for some it might be performing a Shakespeare monologue for the first time. This risk taking, though scary, often leads to the most memorable and impactful moments of the summer. When our campers dare to be brave, they often find that they are able to accomplish things that they didn’t think were possible. When they challenge themselves to step outside of their comfort zone, they discover new things about themselves as performers and individuals. We believe that there are no wrong choices when auditioning, and that any attempted choice is a great one. With this freedom to be silly and bold, our campers soar.

Margie Gilland, Head Counselor

Margie Gilland, Head Counselor

By the end of all of the auditions, the air is buzzing with inspiration, joy, and creativity. New friends and memories have been made, and our community has grown stronger.

New Adventures and New Friends

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"Welcome home!” With months of waiting now in your rearview mirror, you step off the bus and don’t recognize a single face. People all around are smiling and waving, hugging and cheering. You don’t know anyone. Yet.

This week, at summer camps across the country, children of all ages are embarking on new adventures. Here at Acting Manitou, we are grateful to have a head start with all of our new campers: a love of theater. One of our favorite questions—for new and returning campers alike—is “what shows did you do this year?” The shared experience of working on a show allows our new campers to slip seamlessly into our community, often without realizing it. And for our campers who are ready to jump into theater for the first time in beautiful Oakland, Maine, the collaborative nature of theater provides a warm and welcoming world to step into.

While making friends can be the most daunting task facing a new camper, the opportunities to do so come early and often. From our buddies who we check in with throughout audition day to our first lunch where we eat together with our bunks, even the shyest camper is welcomed into their bunk/class/cast in no time at all. And with so many different activities offered at AM, each camper is grouped with a wide variety of other campers, not just by bunk or age.

Spencer Lutvak, Business Manager and Teaching Artist

Spencer Lutvak, Business Manager and Teaching Artist

Each of us has lived through being a newcomer. “Will I fit in?” “Will people like me?” These questions are expected and natural when you find yourself in a new place, no matter how excited you are to be there. How could this place possibly live up to your expectations? At Acting Manitou, we believe the answer lies in community. The people—campers and staff alike—are what make this place unique. In just three short weeks, that first step off the bus will feel like a lifetime ago. And next year you’ll be welcoming a new camper home.