Theatre summer camp: it’s all about going through a stage
Students are sprawled across the floor on yoga mats. Told to “give in” to gravity, to feel the truth and beauty of the moment, they release deep sighs.
Envision a friendly face on the ceiling; tell that person, “I am me,” the group leader says.
Welcome to UIC Theatre Camp.
For two weeks in July, Chicago-area high school students studied voice, movement and theatre design at the camp, sponsored by the School of Theatre and Music and led by professionals in the field. The 13 students, ages 13 to 18, worked collaboratively on an original piece and mentored each other in writing exercises, physical activities and brainstorming word associations.
Camp faculty included David Kersnar, adjunct professor of theatre and a founder of Lookingglass Theatre; Second City trainer Jenny Lamb; Jason K. Martin, camp director and clinical assistant professor of theatre; Thom Pasculli, Walkabout Theater, Vox Theater and adjunct lecturer of theatre; and Kristy Hall, costume designer and adjunct lecturer of theatre.
The $475 camp tuition, with financial aid available, was “a fraction of what other theater camps cost,” said camp coordinator Sarah Simmons.
That was part of the attraction for Kendra Turner, 16, of Lawndale, a student at Chicago High School for the Arts. “The good thing about this one was that it was affordable, and it teaches you a lot about being in theater,” she said.
The camp focused on the theme of identity.
“The importance of your voice, and taking your voice and identity to a platform in the arts to express yourself, I think that is definitely something that sets us apart from other camps,” Simmons said.
Collaboration was another focus.
“Whether you’re creating original work together, or scripted work, it’s not just you,” Lamb said. “It’s about working with other actors and letting their choices and decisions help influence your own.”
Collaboration leads to a greater sense of ownership, “which is so important in the art world,” added Lamb. “You don’t want to just regurgitate someone else’s work.”
The yoga-like exercises the students practiced are the foundation of the study of voice, Martin said. “We do metaphysical work of taking the time to slow down, feel your spine and your breath, and your comfort and discomfort with your body.
“You are the one to give yourself the freedom and permission to speak,” he said. “And the physical lesson is stillness and feeling your breath, and releasing into gravity.”
The students’ original piece told the journey of a main character who is exposed to a mirage of media images, then weighs those visions to find his identity. The work was performed for a public audience July 25, the camp’s last day.
“They’re definitely at different places in their journey of identification,” Kersnar said. “But I’ve been very encouraged to see those that we thought didn’t have a handle on who they were, actually emerge and become the unexpected leaders in our group. ”