Finding something for the kids to do every summer has never been easier, especially in the Capital Region.
Yes, there are all kinds of summer sports camps to choose from, but in this area parents enjoy a completely different option: theater camp.
Proctors began its own summer camp in 2008, while over in Albany, Park Playhouse has had a summer program for children since the 1990s. The Steamer Theatre No. 10 in Albany has also run an ambitious summer program for children for 15 years, while other troupes who keep an eye on the kids every summer include Capital Repertory Theatre and the Classical Theater Guild. There are more.
In Schenectady, Katherine Stephens and Grace Janiszewski are education program managers for Proctors, which means they oversee a series of workshops and classes in various aspects of the theater. Broadway Camp is the biggest, designed for those children who are seriously looking for a career in theater, whether it be on stage as a performer or in the production realm. And what used to be just a one-week program is now four weeks.
"Broadway Camp is designed as an advance-level course for students who are really geared toward our workforce development initiative," said Stephens, who moved to the Schenectady area from Virginia 12 years ago. "That means they're very serious, or starting to get very serious, about the training they need to have a career in theater. At Proctors we are part of the Creative Economy Alliance, and we take it very seriously because we're training the next generation which will participate in the creative economy as a career. And that can include acting, dancing, makeup, and all other aspects of the theater."
Janiszewski, a 2008 Schenectady High graduate who worked with the school's Blue Roses Theatre, said Proctors' summer camp program is getting more and more popular.
"I started as an intern at Proctors a while ago, and I can remember the summer camp was quite small when it started," said Janiszewski, who graduated from Fairfield University and returned to work at Proctors on a full-time basis about a year ago. "We then added the Broadway camp and now other programs have grown up around that. We have a film academy now, we have makeup, jazz institute. We have probably around 175 kids coming this summer for all of the different programs."
The Proctors' Broadway Camp has sessions focused on acting, dance, production and musicians. Other areas covered by Proctors include improv, filmmaking and stage makeup. And at Capital Repertory, now under the Proctors umbrella, students can work on writing their own plays and take acting lessons for serious, non-musical performances.
"Grace and I both knew we wanted to do arts administration," said Stephens, who went to Mary Washington University. "Even though we participated in productions as kids in high school and college, we want to make sure that kids understand better that there are all kinds of different jobs they could have in this business. And we knew the skills we learned, teamwork, creativity and just trying new things, would help us as adults."
"One of the most important things to learn is to accept failure and move on," said Janiszewski. "That happens every day in the rehearsal room when a director says, 'let's try it another way,' or 'let's do it more like this.' You're constantly putting yourself out there, and as an adult you're constantly being told to do more. Even for some of our younger campers, it's good for them to get a little bit of that."
At Proctors, the summer ends when the students get together and put on a production of "Pippin," Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 5 at 2 and 7 p.m.
At Steamer No. 10 in Albany, creator and artistic director Ric Chesser was happy putting on shows for adults and children now and then, as well as hosting a special event or two. Then, he joked, he was presented with an ultimatum.
"We had been doing shows for kids, and then we had some classes for kids and eventually the parents demanded that I have something in the summer," said Chesser. "Then they wanted them to do shows. So now we do that and we have a lot of rehearsals. We don't tell them that the rehearsals are acting/movement classes in disguise."
During its summer program, Steamer No. 10 and its students put on a show a week, while also preparing for a handful of free Shakespeare performance in Albany's Lincoln Park in late July and early August.
"We're doing 'Macbeth,' and the cast is comprised entirely of kids from our program between 12 and 17 years old," said Chesser, a graduate of Goddard College. "They are free and open to the public. Bring a lawn chair."
Working with Cheser at Steamer No. 10 are Jackie Donnaruma, a graduate of Wesleyan University who went on to get her masters in Shakespeare and Theatre Education at New York University. Eleah Peal has a certification in stage combat from Fredonia, while rounding out the staff is Joy Kelly, an Equity actor with 40 years experience.