Summer camp marks an important time of growth in the life of teens, and the effects of camp reverberate with them long after they leave a summer program. The ASC Theatre Camp provides more than just an intensive theatrical performance program for the students who study with us. ASCTC also meets teens’ developing social and psychological needs in an environment that provides more individualized and positive support than what most students receive at school alone. Campers gain skills that are essential to spreading their wings as independent thinkers, no matter what they end up studying in college.
Anyone who has been to the ASC Theatre Camp performances can attest to the incredible depth of skill, heart, and bravery that the campers bring to the stage during each of their shows. The performance festivals are just the capstone to what many campers describe as a life-changing transformation. The challenges which campers face in the three weeks that they spend here help them to grow into better performers and set them on a path to being conscientious leaders and artists.
The teens that find a home-away-from-home at ASCTC know that being part of our community will imbue them with a spirit of creative generosity, which is something that they can apply to any discipline. Some of our incoming 2014 campers already know their “dream jobs”; many applicants indicate that they want to be actors, but many more share that they are thinking of other paths – being musicians, anthropologists, teachers, writers, psychiatrists, journalists, lawyers, engineers, computer scientists, and astronomers.
Performing Shakespeare is just one way for all of these talented young students to celebrate their collective diversity and their inherent need to communicate about all the complexities and challenges of life, things that Shakespeare can capture in the turn of a phrase. Shakespeare speaks to teens in a way that sometimes their parents and teachers cannot.
At the conclusion of each camp session, we survey our campers about their experience. Sometimes, they write to us to share their heartfelt reflections on their time in Staunton:
“One of the first things I remember hearing at camp was “I am enough.” This was a phrase that constantly resurfaced in my mind while at camp and even now three months later and 900 miles away from Staunton …At the American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp, I experienced abundant support from each person with which I made contact.”
Many teens come to camp burdened with the social weights of high school peer pressure. Although our students are already bright, confident, and mature, they leave camp with an extra boost of self-assurance that propels them to another stage of independence – that stage where being yourself is cool, nerding-out is acceptable, and Shakespeare’s words transform into personal mantras. “We have heard the chimes at midnight” is one of my favorite quotes from Henry IV, Part II, which ASCTC produced in 2006. I might not be as old as Falstaff, but recalling the days of youth and summer will always remind me of the transformative power of camp.
“It’s a place where you don’t have to worry about being judged. Camp takes you out of your comfort zone, but in a good way. It really allows you to be yourself as well as figure out who you are.“
“My self-confidence improved monumentally during the time I was at camp. I went into camp shy and quiet, constantly fearing that I was going to be judged negatively. By the time camp was over, I truly believed that it didn’t matter if people judged me because I am enough just how I am.”
The support that our campers receive from our staff, counselors, and guest artists reverberates through their lives, especially as they prepare for college and the daunting experience of starting their careers. Building positive, professional relationships with trusted adults helps campers learn to articulate their own ideas as well as fostering self-efficacy.
“Every single one of the teachers seemed very concerned with giving us all the advice, guidance, and knowledge they could offer so as to improve our theatrical craft; the classes, rehearsals, and performance experiences truly helped me grow as an artist in so many ways. I feel ASCTC was the perfect vehicle for college preparation for me.”
“ASCTC has helped me further discover who I am and what I love to do. The environment and people have helped me thrive into becoming a more confident and happier individual.”
Perhaps the most profound impact that camp has on our students is that they leave inspired to continue to share their joy of Shakespeare with others. We do our best to stay in touch after they “graduate” from our program. Many campers return as counselors in following summers to share their knowledge with the next crop of young Shakespeare enthusiasts. Here are some of the other great activities that our alums have been doing after they leave our program:
- Managing and working for many professional theatre companies across the country
- Working as engineers, computer programmers, filmmakers, librarians, business managers, producers, and entrepreneurs
- Teaching Shakespeare to middle and high school students
- Forming and sustaining collegiate Shakespeare companies at Exeter University, Yale University, New York University, the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and many others.
- Touring Shakespeare’s plays to schools
- Pursuing graduate work in many disciplines, including Shakespeare and Early Modern Studies at Mary Baldwin College and King’s College London.
The ASC Theatre Camp is a community of students, young professionals, and seasoned teachers and artists who continue to create theatre, to support each other’s artistic and educational goals, and to build professional opportunities long after the summer fades away. My hope is that we enrich the lives of the campers who study and perform at the Blackfriars Playhouse and that we always cherish the contributions of young artists to the rich history and new horizons of Shakespeare in performance.
This summer, Session 1 campers will perform Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Measure for Measure, as well as Fair Em by Anonymous on July 13. Second session campers will perform Henry VI, Part 3 with two casts along with All’s Well That Ends Well on August 10. We hope you can join us.
“I will return to camp next year because camp is the most wonderful place in the whole world. I learn so much, I make so many friends, and I get to be 100% of my nerdy self 24/7. It’s fantastic!”