Camp was the first place I ever shared something I wrote. English classes in high school didn’t require me to stand up and recite my poems and theater classes let me give my work to other actors to perform. It was only at theater camp that I was asked to present something I previously considered private. And it was only in the supportive environment of Acting Manitou that I dared take the step of sharing a piece of myself.
The biggest necessity of theater is an audience.
The biggest necessity of theater is an audience. At a theater camp, the campers and staff fulfill the roles of both performers and audience; from our staff and camper showcases to our final show day, each of us is given multiple opportunities to bear witness to someone else’s openness and vulnerability. But for me the evening that best encompasses what it means to share a piece of yourself is elective presentations. It’s a night of unpolished, unfinished work, shared in an environment free of judgment and full of love.
While I’m not going to bust out the slam poem I wrote and shared in 2009, I do recall the specific moment I looked up from paper and saw myself in the mirror, surrounded by my fellow campers. What could have felt like a leap into the abyss was instead a slow float down into a soft bed; my friends there to catch me and hold me and celebrate my work. And then as soon as I had gotten up to share I was back in the throng, celebrating the next poet, songwriter, or dancer.
If theater necessitates an audience, then a performer requires a desire to share. But while even the most accomplished actor may need to work through their stage fright every night they go on stage, that yearning to get up in front of a group was sparked at some point in their life. At camp, we believe everyone’s stories deserve to be heard and by cultivating that desire we give our campers the tools to speak up, at camp, at school, at home, and out in the world.