Performing Arts Programs at Camp: The Need for Creativity in a Digital World

Julie D. Polkes
July 2018
Campers performing a dance routine

The culture of camps is deeply rooted in being places where kids not only have fun, but where they connect socially. Today, camps are taking on greater importance and many are focused on specialized programs such as academic, athletic, musical, or the performing arts. Each type of specialized camp has great effect on the development of young bodies and minds. Looking at the whole child and growth opportunities may bring families to a decision tailored to their children’s specific interests when it comes to choosing a camp program.

When one thinks of performing arts camps, they usually think of one of two scenarios: nonprofessional children involved in putting on a show or a dance performance who spend their time at camp memorizing lines, rehearsing, and then performing before an audience; or professionals who spend hours practicing their craft with the sole focus of improving their skills to help them fulfill their dream of working in the arts. The reality is that for whatever reason one chooses a performing arts camp, participants will come away with social and intellectual development, those all-important 21st-century skills, they may not find elsewhere.

Numerous studies show that participation in drama programs improves classroom performance. According to the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (2016), “In addition to having higher standardized test scores than their peers who do not experience the arts, students who participate in drama often experience improved reading comprehension, maintain better attendance records, and stay generally more engaged in school than their non-arts counterparts. Schools with arts-integrated programs, even in low-income areas, report high academic achievement.”

In addition to academic achievement, “A joint study by the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Education and Social Work and the Australian Council for the Arts has found that engagement in the arts benefits students not just in the classroom, but also in life. Students who are involved in the arts have higher school motivation, engagement in class, self-esteem, and life satisfaction, researchers discovered” (University of Sydney, 2013). Students learn to connect with each other, resulting in improved social interactions.

Understanding the value of camps dedicated to the arts, Studio School Los Angeles, a fully accredited, postsecondary school offering BFA degrees in all areas of entertainment and performing arts, has partnered with US Performing Arts Camps (USPA) to become its newest location offering a unique summer camp experience to students who are pursuing acting for stage or camera.. The summer program at Studio School, which covers the breadth of performing arts disciplines, is an intensive, immersive program equally geared toward those wishing to pursue a career in the arts, those interested in performing arts, and those looking to find a creative escape from an increasingly digital world.

Attending a camp focused on theatre and dance brings a diverse set of skills to participants that will remain with them for life. Some of the skills kids acquire by working in theatre, dance, or on set are:

  • The art of collaboration: Participants are given the chance to work as a team. The group must work together to deliver the end result. Performing isn’t about the individual, but about how the group comes together to create the final product and how they support each other through the process.
  • Creativity and imagination: Using imagination is a muscle that is not being exercised a lot these days due to kids’ constant focus on screens. Working in the arts allows children to explore different roles, try on different personalities, take a risk in approach, try coming at something from different perspectives, and open their minds to endless possibilities. There are 20 ways one can say the same line, and trying out the different ways teaches creativity.
  • Self-confidence: The mere act of standing up and performing in front of a group of strangers, especially for a shy teenager, is a huge confidence booster. Being able to make mistakes and learning that even if you flub a line or trip on stage you can continue without repercussions helps boost the self-esteem of young performers and teaches them that perseverance breeds success. Children are given the freedom to step outside their comfort zones. Each kid also feels important because they know that they are needed for the project to work. For youth who may feel lost in the social aspects of school during the year, the experience of being an essential part of a team can significantly raise their self-esteem.
  • Accountability: In theatre as well as in dance, performers, set builders, and lighting technicians all must work together to deliver the final product. One person cannot be successful on their own, as everyone works off of each other. There are a lot of moving parts in this group effort, so if one person doesn’t show up, they quickly learn it affects the entire production. Students understand quickly that they are accountable to a team of peers. If one person doesn’t pull their weight, the performance falls apart.
  • Concentration: For children who lack focus, performing is a great way to teach them to keep on task. Learning to listen to others, taking direction, and the need to play off another person helps develop focus. The need to listen for a cue or enter the dance at a certain musical interlude requires intense concentration.
  • Communication: Expressing themselves through character, story development, movement, and dialogue will help children better learn how to share their feelings and communicate with both adults and peers, helping them in their relationships outside of the program. Improved communication also develops from learning how body language can portray meaning to another and from the need to deliver a message to an audience.

Theatre practitioner and author Dr. Louis E. Catron backs up the argument that skills developed on the stage go a long way in life. He has identified 25 life skills that come from learning about and studying theatre (2018):

  1. Oral communication skills
  2. Creative problem-solving abilities
  3. More than a “get it done” approach to work and projects
  4. Motivation and commitment
  5. Willingness to work cooperatively
  6. The ability to work independently
  7. Time-budgeting skills
  8. Initiative
  9. Promptness and respect for deadlines
  10. Acceptance of rules
  11. The ability to learn quickly — and correctly
  12. Respect for colleagues
  13. Respect for authority
  14. Adaptability and flexibility
  15. The ability to work under pressure
  16. A healthy self-image
  17. Acceptance of disappointment — and ability to bounce back
  18. Self-discipline
  19. A goal-oriented approach to work
  20. Concentration
  21. Dedication
  22. A willingness to accept responsibility
  23. Leadership skills
  24. Self-confidence
  25. Enjoyment — “This is Fun!”

According to Glenn Kalison, president of Studio School, “In the age of shortened attention spans and loss of physical ‘face time’ with friends, our children are being tethered to their digital devices. Anything that gets our youth away from their screens is of value these days, but nothing better than training in the theatre and in the art of storytelling. While music may stimulate the brain in useful ways and sports may build team spirit and sense of healthy competition, the art of theatre and story builds collaboration muscles like nothing else — while also building sense of empathy and caring for others.”

The theatre is all about in-person collaboration and sharing the bonding experience of building an imaginary world for an audience — to tell a story. The theatre is a safe place to play free of judgment where all that matters is understanding and empathy for the characters depicted in the story, their circumstances, as well as developing understanding for fellow collaborators.

“Any opportunity for kids to experience the process of putting a play together and using their creative skills and intuition provides impermeable skills that will continue throughout their lives,” says Pamela Fisher, vice president at Abrams Artists Agency in the Youth Theatrical Department. “The kids we see coming out of theatre arts camps, whether they continue to act or not, are well rounded as they learn to not only hone a craft, but develop relationships and skills that support their personal and intellectual development.”

An enriching summer goes beyond the skills learned. The social and emotional aspects of sharing an experience of outstanding direction with like-minded peers provides for many that boost of not only encouragement, but confidence, in the theatre space and beyond. USPA and Studio School provide an experience that incorporates skills, practice, rehearsals, and opportunities to test the waters of acting and production in an environment that nurtures the skill as well as the most important aspect of camp: establishing meaningful relationships and friendships with fellow campers and staff that often last a lifetime.

While many students who attend performing arts camps will go on to become professional actors and dancers and work in film production, it is equally impactful to those not set on pursuing a career in entertainment. All participants emerge with the skills that one acquires through participation in performing arts programs — 21st-century skills that foster collaboration and teamwork, creativity and imagination, critical thinking, and problem solving — skills that will serve them in life.

Photo courtesy of US Performing Arts Camp at Studio School, Los Angeles, California.

References

American Alliance for Theatre and Education. (2016). The effects of theatre education. AATE. Retrieved from aate.com/benefits-of-theatre-ed

Catron, L. E. (2018). 25 special advantages the theatre major has (and many not even know!). Appalachian State University. Retrieved from https://theatreanddance.appstate.edu/students/prospective-students/25-life-skills-learned-theatre

University of Sydney. (2013, September 27). Research shows involvement in the arts has wide-ranging benefits for young people. Phys.org. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2013-09-involvement-arts-wide-ranging-benefits-young.html

Julie Polkes has over 20 years of experience working in the entertainment industry as a public relations executive. Julie has overseen, created, and implemented public relations campaigns for over 200 motion pictures both domestically and internationally. She currently represents Studio School Los Angeles in all areas of public relations with Lynda Dorf, L|D Communications-Marketing-Strategy.

About US Performing Arts Camp at Studio School

Entertainment-focused college Studio School Los Angeles has partnered with US Performing Arts Camp (USPA) to become their newest location. Launched this summer (2018), its programs are project-oriented and hands-on, covering the breadth of performing arts disciplines, including acting, film, musical theatre, and dance. The Studio School location is the only USPA Camp located on a working studio lot. It offers students an immersive experience with unique opportunities including access to working sets and sound stages and the chance to work with professional filmmakers.