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Performing Arts Camps Bring Talent to Life

West Chester Studio for the Performing Arts

Kids bring drama to their parents’ lives. Whether they prefer to be the center of attention or behind the scenes, performing arts camps show them how to channel their talents into acting, song and dance.

Conquer stage fright

Public speaking is a common fear for all ages, so it’s understandable why some first-time performers may hesitate to step into the spotlight. “It’s important to be supportive and acknowledge how they feel,” advises Therese Walden-Murphy, director of PA’s West Chester Studio for the Performing Arts, which holds one-week camps on topics like improvisation, theatrical production and, new this year, Broadway Kids’ Cabaret. 

Awareness of one’s feelings, she adds, can be advantageous. “Kids who are really sensitive don’t realize that everyone else is afraid, too — they’re probably just more aware of their fear. This additional amount of sensitivity helps them as performers.”

Emphasizing fun, instead of the need to succeed, also takes the pressure off. Directors should “give kids dance steps they can do, songs they can sing and put them in positions where they’re most comfortable and look best,” says producing artistic director Ed Fiscella of Mainstage Center for the Arts in Blackwood, NJ.

Harry Dietzler, executive and artistic director of the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center says the Summer Stage Apprentice Program for ages 11-12 works hard to “create a nurturing environment with get-to-know-you games and improv that right away breaks down barriers.” These activities help the children be more comfortable with each other. 

Build character

While young campers might not yet have dreams of making it big, they’ll learn all they need to know to get started. Little ones often gain basic knowledge of improvisation, pantomime, song and dance. Camps also instill skills that are vital to everyday life, from organization and self-acceptance to teamwork.

Stage Lights Dance Studio in Newark, DE, opens its drama camps to 4- to 14-year-olds. “It’s a skill to be able to work with people of different ages and experience levels,” says director and owner Vicky Saunders.

In addition to collaboration, performing arts camps aim to cultivate independence and confidence. Walden-Murphy says she encourages students to contribute their ideas to each show. “Part of an actor’s job is to have ideas,” she asserts. “It’s very empowering for a child to see her ideas on stage and know that her input is valuable.”

Theater also can help kids gain a clearer sense of self as they get into character. “We tell them to use themselves in their role — it helps them feel connected to who they are and how they think and feel,” says Walden-Murphy.

A well-rounded experience

For older campers who are interested in pursuing theater more seriously in high school or college, camp gives them a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on a production. Some camps let kids participate in every aspect of the process, from set and costume design to shaping the script. Mentorship from professional actors and directors who’ve been in the business is beneficial as well.

At Upper Darby Summer Stage, children can focus on performance or technical theater (set and prop construction, running the light or sound boards), and professionals who work in the Philadelphia theater world mentor each group. 

Camps at Mainstage Center for the Arts, Fiscella says, can include elective classes — a useful way for students to gain exposure to areas of the performing arts they may not be familiar with. For example, “a person who’s into acting might want to take a course on film making, or a dancer may want to learn about sound or stage lighting,” he says.

Most important, Walden-Murphy notes, performing arts camps show kids of all ages that “everyone has something to offer and should be celebrated.”  

Cheyenne Shaffer is resource editor at MetroKids.

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