by Jessica Bland
Last week, Shannon and I stepped through a wardrobe and made a heroic journey through C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. This week, we’ve been swept up by the Ladderless Window Cleaning Company in Roald Dahl’s The Giraffe, the Pelly, and Me. Next week, we’re taking the train to Hogwarts, where we’ll encounter magic, Quidditch, and some wicked books that might have the power to make us fall in love again and again with its’ characters.
Our summer camp season is once again upon us here at Portland Stage. After many months of brainstorming and prep work, the campers have finally arrived, ready to learn the fundamentals of theater through age-based camps based on popular, young people’s literature.
By basing our camps on literature, we’re able to engage the children in the timeless art of storytelling, the heart of all theatrical traditions. Our campers have often read the books we’ve selected, or are familiar with the authors. Instead of approaching unfamiliar scripts to which they have no emotional connections, they’re caught up in re-enacting the characters and the shenanigans that their favorite books present.
This literature-basis also gives us a commonality between our campers upon which we can build an ensemble. In our camps, we strive to create a safe space where our campers work together as an ensemble, supporting their fellow actors, and discovering the best methods for collaboration. When our campers perform, they learn how to shift their perspectives, to no longer see mistakes as bad, but instead as experimentations in the artistic process.
There are few things more rewarding than working with young people to expand their definition of “the possible.” Many of the campers we work with have never before performed for their peers. They self-define as “shy” and “quiet.” Yet, when they receive a little encouragement – a nod of appreciation from an instructor, a compliment from a fellow camper, a reminder to experiment – we’ve seen these same young people blossom.
We do not claim to work magic in our camps (in a week, there is only so much we can do!) However, we hope our campers leave our space with renewed love for books, desire to keep pursuing theater, and ever-growing confidence in themselves as artistic collaborators and experimenters.