Ok. So here’s the deal: You have 5 days to stage a 30-minute, 6-song musical in a reputably haunted theatre that’s falling down around you. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: your cast is a group of eighteen 8-10 year-olds hopped up on Easter chocolate. Aaaannnnd GO!
It sounds like the plot for a reality TV show. You know, one of those programs where Cameron Mackintosh comes in at the end of day 5 and presents the winner with a cheque for a million dollars. In my case, this was a teaching contract I had over the Easter holidays that tested just how far I would go to live the CCC’s motto and be a ‘catalyst for a creative community‘.
It’s called Glee camp. Five days over the Easter break where parents drop their budding thespians off at the Conservatory of Performing Arts for 8 daily hours of singing, dancing and acting. I had signed on to teach at the camp, alongside director/choreographer Chip McDaniel, at the end of February and while I was looking forward to the week I really didn’t expect what was coming.
I felt like everything was under control. Chip and I both knew what we were doing and we worked well together. We’d literally just closed a production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe where Chip had directed/choreographed and I had played DeLee. We had this cased. Or so I thought.
Within the first five minutes of camp we had already been forced to recast the role of Cinderella, three kids were crying because they didn’t like their parts, one kid was crying because she slipped on water that was leaking from the roof, I had nearly been knocked unconscious by a falling piece of Darke Hall’s ceiling decor and I couldn’t deal with any of it because I was too busy filling out an incident report for an asthma attack that one of our campers was wheezing her way through. As I filled out the forms, I scolded myself for forgetting the most important variable in this whole project: the KIDS.
I don’t have any. In case you were wondering. And while I’ve taught children before, I’m more accustomed to hour-long private lessons than an 8-hour school day. As for that motherly instinct that seems to innately tell some women how to best nurture children? Yeah. I got none of that. But my time-steps are lovely, I assure you.
So there I was, putting out fires, slapping on band-aids and feeling like all I was really doing was babysitting when something incredible happened. The kids started to get settled. They started to feel comfortable in the space, with each other and with us and they started to open up. It turns out, they actually like this stuff! We haven’t lost the battle to video games! There are still kids out there that would rather spend their holidays singing and dancing than anything else and throughout the week they continued to impress.
Over the course of the camp, the kids learned 6 songs, a 30-minute script and choreography to each song. We played games, learned about theatre etiquette and shared various ghost stories about Darke Hall’s legendary hauntings. When we assigned homework, it came back completed and the kids continued to make progress. Of course, that’s not to say things were easy. There were still plenty of band-aids to apply, plenty of conflicts to resolve and a few nights where both Chip and I were up until 2:00 am sewing costumes and finding props.
The thing is, all that stuff was secondary to the growth I could see in all eighteen of our students. Every bit of effort we put in was returned in the form of new skills picked up, tighter choreography or even just a smile on a formerly frustrated face. I suppose it’s what they refer to as ‘paying it forward.’
When Friday afternoon rolled around it was time to present our little musical to the campers’ families and friends. The funny thing is, I’ve never been nervous for any of my own performances but I had a major case of butterflies this time around. I knew how hard these kids had worked and I wanted them to have the great show they deserved. I wanted them to feel the joy I feel in the arts. I shouldn’t have been worried. The kids performed ‘Ever After — a Musical’ better than I could have ever planned or anticipated. It was fantastic.
It’s been almost a week since the camp ended and I’m just now getting the feeling back in my legs. The ringing in my ears is probably permanent. I just can’t stop reminiscing about the teachers who stood in the wings with a bad case of butterflies at MY childhood performances. I had loved the arts then just like my campers do now and I’m thankful for the opportunity to pass it on. At the CCC we often refer to the organization as a catalyst for a creative community. I can’t think of a better catalyst than a big group of creative kids.