summer camp

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.

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.