young artists

On the Importance of Community

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On a little pocket of land in semi-rural Maine, there lies a haven of artistic and self expression. A place where people from all walks of life can gather to make theatre, commune with nature, and make lifelong friends. Year after year, campers and staff return to Acting Manitou because of the community that has been built on this little pocket of land. A community that is supportive and welcoming, and empathetic and caring. A community that gives everybody the space to be vulnerable and creative and artistic and unique.

A few nights ago we had our first round of elective presentations, at the end of which we gathered in a circle to share something we were grateful for that night. Most spoke of their gratitude for this community that allows them to try something new, take a risk, share a part of themselves they might have otherwise been too afraid to. We sat in what felt like an unbreakable circle of shared attitudes, interests, and goals, a circle that mirrored the one our camp is constructed on.

Gillian Gold,  Co-Producer

Gillian Gold,
Co-Producer

This is my ninth summer at Acting Manitou, my fifth as a staff member, and every year when I contemplate whether or not I will return for the next summer, I consider who I would be without this community. Who would I be without the place that taught me how to be an artist. Who would I be without the people who taught me how to be a friend. And who would I be without the community that has always given me the space to be exactly who I am. The truth is, I don’t know. I return year after year to make theatre in Maine and commune with nature. And I return year after year to be in this place with my lifelong friends, some of whom I met nearly 10 years ago, and some of whom I just met, but all of whom have made me a better person and have filled my life with incredible joy and love.

Revolutionaries and Artists

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Last year, I led a masterclass at Acting Manitou in Chance Operation using tenants affiliated with the work of John Cage, the i-Ching, and the Dadaists. In class, we gathered ingredients including pieces of text, areas on stage, gestures, and more. After that, we assigned a number to each one of those ingredients, and rolled dice to choose the ingredients until we created a piece of theatre. It was a risk but I soon found out how willing and excited the campers were to tackle art-making around randomness and the breaking down of form. They are, after-all, living in a time where the multiplicity of identity and storytelling, and the fractured way we take in information through our digital spaces is quite familiar. 

The campers in that class accessed something that peaked my interest in college and that I have been applying to my experimental theatre-making ever since. I knew that we had fun creating performances by “chance” and I did underscore my excitement around the breaking down of form and linear structures to create performance for the campers I was teaching. Apparently, my insistence on not needing a text with an Aristotelian structure stuck when I learned from one of my colleagues that his students during the school year refuted his lesson writing “well-made” plays. They issued my name, telling him that Dara would disagree and cited the playful lessons of the Dadaists. I was amazed that they held onto this lesson at camp and applied that new idea months later at school. Artists and revolutionaries in the making.

Dara Malina, Show Director

Dara Malina, Show Director

Creating art with young people is rewarding, challenging, and vital. Through art we are teaching our children valuable lessons in problem-solving, leadership, critical analysis, and how to trust their impulses. We create spaces where questioning is encouraged and necessary. We slowly build free-thinkers, individuals who can lead communities, who can question authority, and rebuild at-risk structures. At camp, we imbue our kids with a sense of agency, we support them, we create space for risk-taking, and encourage them to fight through challenges. Ultimately, they succeed because they value themselves as a necessary part of a larger community. It will be exciting to see the lessons they learn this summer, and how they apply those takeaways in the days, months, years to come.