I've been working at theatre summer camps every summer since 2006. Whatever other summer work I can find, I always find myself in a room with a group of students, trying to put together a story to show for their adoring parents on the last day of camp. I've worked on many, many one-week camps with the students writing and performing their own work, and a few three-week camp with older students. But the curriculum has always been largely set up above my pay grade, and the structure of the show has been set out for me well in advance. In this camp structure, I'd have eight days, a time frame I'd never worked in before, and the two sessions had different show goals: session 1 was to have students write and perform in some kind of show, and session 2 was to have students share some scenes from the one-act plays they had written over the two weeks.
It took weeks to figure out how to put these shows together. Drawing on my long experience in summer camps, plus my experience with devised plays (written by the actors, on their feet, largely using improv to create and dialogue), and my PYP experience coaching young playwrights, I painstakingly wrote lesson plans for each day, hoping my plans would work. After a few planning meeting with my incredible team of co- and assistant teaching artists, we jumped in on the first day of camp, and we were met with the kindest, most creative, most willing group of summer camp students any of us had ever met. These students jumped in with both feet, from the life-long Radnor residents creating clown characters to the student who only wanted one spoken line in the devised show, to the brother and sister who had moved to Radnor from Vermont the day before camp started. We couldn't have been more proud of the work these students created, both in the devised show (what happens when the heroes get tired of the tedium of fighting the villains every day and decide to quit?) and the traditional playwriting show (what do you do when you're about to enjoy a perfect cup of coffee and you walk in the door and tell yourself that if you drink that coffee someone will die?). We had a simply fantastic summer out on the Main Line.
So when I was offered to create this camp again this year, I was really excited. Mindy and I hand-picked an incredible team of teaching artists, some returning and some new, and I re-engineered the lesson plans to make the whole thing run more smoothly, based on what we all learned last summer. And we returned to Radnor in early July, only to be greeted by some new campers, and some returning campers who spent the whole year excited to return! And although we were working in the same space, at the same school, with some of the same teachers and same students, it was a wildly different summer camp experience. I spent so much mental energy last summer trying to stick with my experimental lesson plans, I felt that I didn't give enough freedom to the creative process, and tried instead to make it fit into the box I had imagined at my desk in the middle of winter when I was making these plans. But this year, I softened my grip on the daily plans and let my team help more with the creation model, and we all relaxed into the freedom of letting students create on a longer timeline. It meant less rehearsal time, but the students rose to this challenge and created brilliant, deeper, more complex shows in both sessions of camp!
It was a powerful lesson for me in letting go a little, trusting the people around me, and respecting the creative process to guide us to a stellar artistic experience, both for us as teaching artists and to our incredible student artists. Here's looking forward to Radnor 2017!