Choosing the Right Theater Camp for Your Child
DEC 17, 2013
Raising a theater-loving kid can mean raising a kid who dreams of one day being a star on the stage. If that describes a child you know and love, a performing arts summer camp might be just the way to stoke that fire.
For Nora Brown, a natural tendency to be a “drama queen” and a love for the theater and being on stage made it easy for her mom, Judy Antell, a writer for TravelingMom.com, to choose the right summer camp for her. She went to Camp Broadway, where she got an inside look at theater.
Now a mature teen of 16, Nora no longer wants to be a performer. Instead, she wants to be a playwright. And, Antell says, the skills and confidence she got from attending theater camps from ages 4 through 9 led her to the student leadership team at her school, which gives presentations to incoming freshmen and their parents.
“That’s probably a direct result of her years going to theater camp,” Antell says.
Traveling for the Right Camp Experience
Since Nora lives in New York City, she did not have to travel to get the theater experience she coveted. But many kids do. Look at the website of any theater camp with a national reputation and it is as likely to include travel information as it is to include details on the camp offering itself.
At French Woods Performing Arts Summer Camp, located on the border between New York and Pennsylvania, getting kids to camp is a part of the service. So many campers travel from destinations such as Florida, Chicago, and Los Angeles that the camp sends a staffer to those cities to escort groups of kids to French Woods, says director Ron Schaefer.
But travel isn’t always a prerequisite for attending a high-quality theater camp. With television reality shows turning people into overnight superstars and webcams and smartphones giving everyone access to a public stage, interest in and demand for performing arts summer camps is burgeoning.
Find the Right Camp
Google “theater camps for kids” and it will return more than 9 million hits. That includes everything from camps with national reputations like Camp Broadway, the first kids’ theater camp in New York to connect kids directly with Broadway, to local programs in just about any city with a performing arts center or park district.
How do you know that the camp your children want to attend is one that will help them reach the lofty heights to which they aspire? TravelingMom asked Camp Broadway (which operates camps in New York City; Atlanta; Buffalo, New York; Gainesville, Florida; Greenville; Jacksonville, Florida; Las Vegas; Pittsburgh; Providence, Rhode Island; San Antonio; and Tempe, Arizona) to share some tips for finding the best camp for your kids.
Do Your Homework
The first step to winnow down those 9 million choices is to focus on the needs of your child. Is he a serious performer who only wants to be in the spotlight? Or is she someone who needs downtime in nature and wants to mix rehearsal time with horseback riding and swimming?
Once you have narrowed the camp choices to a few options, read the biographies of the teachers to ensure they are experienced professionals. Read reviews and stories about the camp in the general press. Ask other parents for their reviews, either by inquiring around the community or via social media if you want to cast a wider net.
Contact the Camp
Before you commit, pick up the phone and call the camp operator, who should be willing to answer all of your questions about:
Class size. Will your child be in an intimate setting that will ensure plenty of individual attention for your budding star? Or are the classes chorus-line–sized, offering little time for one-on-one coaching? Camp Broadway’s managing director, Melissa Caolo, says that to provide an optimal learning environment, look for programs that promise one teacher and one assistant to no more than 25 students. If the children are younger, look for even smaller class sizes to ensure plenty of control and learning.
Performing opportunities. At French Woods, every child is guaranteed a part in a stage performance. And those who are in the chorus of a musical can have a second opportunity with a part in a one-act play.
The mission of the camp. Is this a program aimed at using the performing arts to develop a child’s self-confidence in every area of his or her life? Is it a program aimed at honing skills and launching careers? Or is it some combination of the two? All approaches are valid. The key is to know what the mission is so you can be sure it matches your child’s wishes and needs.
Safety. Are the instructors vetted and are their backgrounds checked? Is the teaching space clean and well-organized? Is there a plan for handling emergencies? How are the meals prepared? Is there adequate adult supervision at all times?
Cost vs. Value
Once you are satisfied that the camp you chose is the right one for your child, it’s time to think about money and value. This is where the reputation of the camp comes in. If your child is serious about a future as a performer, is this an investment in that future? If it’s a camp with a national reputation, is it worth the cost of flying your child across the country to attend?
Make sure to read the fine print. Are all meals included? What about theater tickets to professional performances?
If that all adds up to more than your family budget can handle, don’t despair. Many camps offer financial aid and scholarships to make camp more affordable.
And finally, Camp Broadway’s Caolo says, encourage your child to go with an open mind and a positive attitude. After all, summer camp is supposed to be fun.