RELATED: Delaware Summer Camp Guide 2019
*Scroll down for theater camp listings
We don’t need a TV show to convince us that America’s Got Talent. We have plenty of it right here in our own Diamond State.
Every summer, youngsters from kindergarten to high school get a chance to hone their acting chops, break out their dancing shoes and show off their song stylings at summer camps offered by educational and cultural organizations throughout Delaware. In addition to exploring, developing and showcasing their individual theatrical talents under the tutelage of professional instructors, campers can come away with social and communication skills strengthened by working as part of an ensemble as well as an enhanced sense of self-confidence.
“The nature of our camp is to encourage a spirit of cooperation and collaboration rather than competition,” says Johanna Schloss, associate director of education and community engagement at the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington, which operates three three-week, full-day Summer on Stage camps in July and August for children ages 8 through 15. “Here, each individual supports the work of the ensemble and the ensemble supports the work of each individual.”
Even the shyest of campers and those with little or no theatrical experience will find an opportunity to open up and try new things, Schloss says. “Learning can be a risk and we want them to take that risk and grow in an atmosphere of kindness, encouragement and empathy.”
SUMMER ON STAGE AT DELAWARE THEATRE COMPANY.//PHOTOs BY MATT URBAN FOR MOBIUS NEW MEDIA
At the Summer on Stage camps, students are coordinated into age-appropriate groups to spend half of each day participating in acting, improvisation, movement and voice groups. Beyond these on-stage skills, they also learn about “stagecraft,” the behind-the-scenes activities such as scenery and costume design and construction, props, sound and lighting.
The second half of the day, the campers create and rehearse original plays in preparation for a performance on the Delaware Theatre Company stage. Every camper gets a role in the show, Schloss notes.
For young thespians ages 16 to 18 who have an interest in performance and may have more experience, Delaware Theatre Company offers a two-week Stage 2: Summer on Stage Studio camp in July. Acting and theater classes are more intensive and personalized for this program. The play they perform at the end is a full two-hour published work.
While some former campers have become on-stage performers, others have used the skills they have learned to further other careers.
“One student I taught is working on Broadway doing props, another is a segment producer on ‘60 Minutes,’ some are playwrights and journalists and one uses the acting games he learned at camp to teach English in Japan,” Schloss says.
DTC offers a two-week Stage 2: Studio camp in July.//photo by Alessandra Nicole for Mobius New Media
Enhancing communication skills through a range of activities from improvisation to scripted interactions is one of the goals of the Rehoboth Children’s Theatre’s four one-week theater camps in Rehoboth Beach for children ages 5 through 12, according to managing director Steve Seyfried. After Seyfried and his wife, Elise, founded the professional theatre in 1982, they started offering morning workshops to teach children the basics of the medium. The workshops were so popular that they morphed into full-scale camps, he says.
“One of the things we emphasize is that our goal is not training professional actors, but to give kids a happy experience, have them learn something about theater techniques and terminology and present a project that they’re proud to show to family and friends,” he says.
Two plays written by the camp’s professional staff, often based on folklore or children’s literature, are rehearsed and performed at the theater. Half of the campers are cast in each play, so everyone gets to play a role.
For the past eight years, the Delaware Arts Conservatory has been bringing an authentic summer stock experience to young performers at The Candlelight Theatre in Arden, with two two-week camps in July, one for ages 5 through 11 and the second for ages 11 through 19. Through games and exploration of the story and characters, the younger campers will rehearse for a production of “Mary Poppins Jr.” The middle- and high-school students will rehearse “High School Musical Jr.,” says Tracy Friswell-Jacobs, a camp co-owner.
“The process of preparing to put on a show requires real focus and dedication on the part of the performers, especially the younger ones who work on it each day from 9 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon,” says Friswell-Jacobs.
Even the choreography is Broadway-caliber, simply modified to suit the age groups, she explains. Getting ready to perform an entire show at the end of only two weeks requires the development of good time management skills.
“They learn that when they’re not on the stage during camp and again when they are at home, they should be using their time wisely reviewing their lines, music and dance steps,” she added. “Just the audition process alone can teach them skills they will be able to use later for job interviews.”
Delaware Arts Conservatory’s theater camp at the Candlelight Theatre in Arden is Broadway-caliber.//photo courtesy of Delaware Arts Conservatory
Just as important, she says, is the takeaway of learning basic theater etiquette. That includes how to be quiet and calm when they are waiting to go on stage and accepting challenges like not getting the part that they may have originally wanted.
“They learn what it’s really like to be part of an ensemble,” she says.
Friswell-Jacobs describes the camp experience as “intense but fun.”
“Our goal is to give them as much of a professional experience as we can while always keeping in mind that they’re still kids,” she says.
Prospective campers shouldn’t be intimidated if they don’t have any prior theater background.
“We have kids that have been doing theater since birth and some that never did anything like this before,” she notes. “Everyone is in the show.”
Camp alumni have been inspired to pursue theater careers in a variety of venues. One became a professional choreographer, another is acting in the national tour of “Rent,” one is a featured dancer at Busch Gardens and another a featured singer on a cruise ship.
Some campers have been more interested in what happens off-stage than on-stage and have worked the technical aspects of production including props, lighting and sound.
The camp has done popular productions such as the Wizard of Oz.//photo courtesy of the Delaware Arts Conservatory
Forging lasting friendships with fellow campers and getting to work with professionals are two of the benefits for youngsters who participate in the one-week Musical Theatre or Acting Summer Camp Intensives offered for grades 1 through 12 by Clear Space Theatre Company in Rehoboth Beach, says company manager Sydney Gray. In the Musical Theatre Intensives, young performers are instructed in acting, dance and vocal technique as they follow the same rehearsal and production processes as the professionals do for their own summer repertory season.
The campers are divided among four intensive sessions by age group. This year, they will be performing “Sleeping Beauty” (grades 1 to 3), “Peter Pan” (grades 4 to 6) and “West Side Story” (grades 7 to 12). A fifth week of camp is offered to students who have been recommended by their intensive instructors and pass an audition, giving them even more extensive opportunity to work with the professionals. This group will present the musical “Rent.”
For youngsters who want to focus on the craft of acting sans song and dance, the Acting Summer Camp Intensives focus on technique and dramatic study through workshops and games instructing them in body awareness and physicality, voice, basic acting technique and working as an ensemble. At the end of the camp session, they will perform “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (grades 1 to 12).
“Our intensives are crash courses in summer repertory theatre, allowing young performers the chance to experience all of the aspects of putting a show together,” Gray says.
Clear Space has been running theater camps since 2005. The current format of intensives has been offered since 2011.
The theater camps run by the various cultural and educational organizations draw students from all over Delaware, as well as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Some of the campers come from even further away while visiting grandparents or with their families at the beach for at least part of the summer.
At Summer on Stage, between 60 to 70 percent of students who participate enroll again the following year, Schloss notes. Seyfried points out that at least 70 to 80 percent of his camps’ enrollment are repeat campers. Many also take more than one camp session per season and some spend the entire summer taking the various sessions.
“Because we’re writing and rehearsing original plays, every session is different,” Schloss says. “And each session has a different theme.”
*denotes 2018 dates and rates
Appoquinimink School District*
Clear Space Theatre Company Musical Theatre and Acting Summer Camp Intensives
Delaware Arts Conservatory Summer Stage 2019
Delaware Theatre Company Summer on Stage
Drama Kids of Wilmington
Rehoboth Summer Children’s Theatreâ€‹
Sanford School and Sanford Day Camp
Shoestring Productions of Brandywine Valley
Smyrna Opera House
University of Delaware Musical Theatre Camp