Sunday, June 19, 2011

Summer camps are a menu of many delights for kids. They have become very subject oriented. There are the sports camps and the adventure mountain climbing camps, geek scientific lets build something camp, even fat camp, lets loose weight. What if your kid watches Glee and knows all the Broadway shows? Well, there is a camp for that too.
Not that I am an endorser for any particular camp but there is one that has a bit of history to back up it’s claims for success. It is called Stagedoor Manor that is a theater camp for kids located in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Years ago there were many resorts in the Catskill Mountains that were the stepping stone to Vegas shows and Broadway for any aspiring entertainer. Those places are all gone now.
This place has show tunes sing-along‘s. Counselors wearing costumes from shows. A place where old Barbara Streisand songs are sung like a Bible revival meeting. Someone even wrote a play about the place. They call it the trial life drama of a summer at Stagedoor Manor, the famous performing arts camp. They are proud to also be called Theater Geeks.
280 campers ages 10-18 coming from as far as Australia want to sing, dance and act in plays all summer. They will perform 13 shows from things like Cinderella to dramas like the Holocaust based play, So, The Child Shall Lead. The counselors have noticed that the most popular kids don’t necessarily have the most money. The kid that has a great vocal range could be the most popular.
Unlike Toddlers with Tiaras and most casting calls for real shows, the parents here are not allowed past the reception area. After the kids move in, parents are not allowed to visit until session performances. For the first week, cell phones are confiscated. They don’t want kids calling their parents as soon as they get their part in a play.
In the 1970’s there were fewer than a dozen performing camps in the United States. Today there are more than 800 according to the American Camp Association. So many kids want the training to be a star. Stagedoor Manor is probably the most well known. It started about 30 years ago and has a pretty impressive alumni list of successful performers.
Robert Downey Jr., Natalie Portman and Glee star Lea Michelle all spent summers at this camp. As a teen, John Crier from CBS’s Two and a half Men went to this camp. He at the time thought it was the most UN-cool place to be. A guy didn’t want to tell people he was going to musical theater camp unless he wanted to get beat up in the 80’s. He had his pick of acting roles because back then, boys had to be actively recruited. Today there is a waiting list for boys and girls alike.
Most importantly, agents arrive to see the talent of kids in shows. The shows are obviously age blind. Sometimes these kids have to play very mature roles age wise. Besides looking for a good part to play in a show, most kids are just looking to bond with somebody that has the same interests as they have. Yes, the quest to fit in and belong someplace. It is certainly a self-esteem booster for kids who often become very shy when put in front of an audience.
I have a problem with camps that dwell on one subject. The great part about school is that you had to be exposed to all subjects. Yes, everyone had to take a swim class, play all types of sports in gym class as well as different subjects in school. Should a 10 year old have the right to decide that this is the thing for me? But, by the age of 18 they could really be a professional at something. Where’s the checkbook? Send that kid to camp!

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