One Dramatic Summer
Stars are born in Monterey County summer theater camps.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
From Gleeks to hip-hoppers, stand-up comedians and pretty princesses, all of summer is a stage for Monterey County kids and teens – or at least it can be, if they attend drama camp.
“I teach a lot of little ones, and when I ask them to just dance or sing they are happy to do that,” says Carmel Academy of Performing Arts’ Carol Richmond. “But when we start to get to the 7-year-olds, you ask them to sing and they freeze. That creativity has been channeled into school, into a set schedule and structured days for our kids.”
Summer theater camps, Richmond says, “continue that creativity. It gives campers an understanding of just how vital music and dance and theater are to our community and our world.”
This isn’t to say the Carmel Academy of Performing Arts’ camps aren’t structured. From the five-day Princess Party Camp, where 3 – to 5-year-olds explore all things princess through dramatic play, creative ballet and music among other topics, to week-long Broadway camps, where girls and boys attend lessons in acting, voice projection, singing, dancing, costuming and props (and which culminates in a mini-Broadway style play presented for family and friends), kids work hard in the Academy’s summer camps. During one-hour (or longer) sessions, campers study all kinds of theater arts. The Academy’s Dance and Theatre Camps, for example, teach basics (and beyond) in ballet and jazz, voice, acting, acrobatics and choreography.
New this year, the one-day Boys Camp includes drumming and percussion, hip-hop moves, jumps and turns. Another new one: the Academy’s one-day Glee Camp, which gives boys and girls an introduction to voice, acting, music and dance and teaches a music routine from the TV show.
In Pacific Grove, theater director and choreographer Dianne Lyle and musical director Michael Blackburn are tackling a Gilbert & Sullivan classic, but bringing it down to size with Pirates of Penzance, Jr. at the Ragamuffin Musical Theatre Camp, a day camp (with parent-friendly, morning – and after-care options available) that runs an entire month out of Pacific Grove Middle School. Ragamuffin teaches more than busting a move – it teaches the entire process of producing a play.
“We have a lot of young theater people who have been involved for quite some time, and kids are already stopping me on the street and asking what we’re doing this year,” says Lyle, who launched the camp more than a decade ago. “They heard ‘Pirates’ and got pretty excited about it. Most musicals are fairly lengthy, but this is accessible to a younger audience.”
Kayti Ramirez, an 18-year-old freshman at Santa Clara University, started attending Ariel Theatrical’s camps the summer after her sophomore year at Santa Catalina High School. She was cast as the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio and then went on to become a camp counselor to the younger kids.
“At the beginning of each day we’d get together and Miss Gail would say, ‘Remember, whether you’re cleaning toilets or wiping a 4-year-old’s nose or helping on stage, it’s about something much bigger. It’s about character and building community, having self-discipline and integrity.’ That translated to my life, schoolwork, relationships with my friends and family.”
Miss Gail is Gail Higginbotham, Ariel’s founder and artistic director who started the nonprofit more than 25 years ago when she moved her young family to Salinas. “What really lurks in the bottom of most children’s hearts is the desire to stand on a stage with a costume and lights on them and have people clap for them,” she says.
Ariel offers three, one-week summer theater camps where kids and teens take classes every day, separated into age and skill groups, focusing on singing, acting, movement and other performance skills. Each camper signs a code of conduct, in which she pledges to be courteous and respectful, own her mistakes and not make excuses. Toward the end of the week they start putting together a recital, which they perform for family and friends.
“The theater part of Ariel is the modality by which we have them here, but the reason for Ariel is to help give them their best shot at creating a principled and productive life, the skills they need to make choices that are positive [in order] to succeed,” Higginbotham says.
As a kid growing up in the Santa Clara Valley, Gracie Poletti attended church summer at Asilomar during the summer. One year she took an improv class – and got hooked on stand-up comedy. “Her class shaped me as a performer.”
Locally, the comedienne has been teaching private lessons and summer comedy camps. Now Poletti heads Pacific Repertory Theater’s School of Dramatic Arts (SoDA), which, in addition to its ongoing performance classes, offers three summer camps. “It’s a really good place to learn and improve your skills so you can audition for and get better parts in Pac Rep plays,” Poletti says.
The first camp, a family trip to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, includes tickets to three shows, four to six hours of workshops taught by experts from the Center for Shakespeare Studies at Southern Oregon University and a whitewater rafting trip. At SoDA’s two-week play production camp, youth will build skills with reader’s theatre, stage movement and voice instruction in the mornings and rehearse and perform a musical, Rock Around The Block, in the afternoons at the Indoor Forest Theatre. Also at the Indoor Forest Theatre, a two-week comedy camp with Poletti will include sessions on songs, dancing and improv, with a workshop performance at the end of camp.
“The kids gain so much self-confidence,” Poletti says. “They learn about who they are, they learn teamwork, they are exposed to literature. You know how some people can’t even get up and speak in front of a group? We have 6-year-olds who can get up and introduce themselves and deliver an entire monologue. Whether or not they go into professional theater, these kids are learning skills that are so valuable in everyday life.”
To find out more about summer performing arts camps, visit:
SoDA >> www.schoolofdramaticarts.org
Ariel >> www.arieltheatrical.org
Carmel Academy of Performing Arts >> www.carmelacademyofperformingarts.com