The house lights are on, the Governor’s School black box theatre empty. The colorful costumes are gone, as is the neon-splashed, metal trash can, and so is the parchment art that bedecked the walls. The last of the strategically, theatrically-placed trash has been picked up. Most unusual in this atmosphere — a space that only moments before was filled with the words, ideas, life, and excited shrieks of two dozen young actors — is a new and unfamiliar sensation: silence. The Virginia Stage Company’s GSA Summer Theatre Camp has just drawn to a close, and for myself and the other instructors and interns, there’s a chance to draw a deep breath and quietly reflect upon the two weeks spent in the company of those wonderful, energetic campers and their world of imagination.
When we began the camp, we really had but a theme and title for our final showcase, Tales from a Garbage Dump. Encouraged by our Director of Education and Community Engagement Ron Newman, we created a go-to list of warmups, theatre games, acting exercises, improvisational scenes, writing prompts, and even Pinterest-inspired costume and set creation activities. These would be the grab-bag of ideas from which we would work together as instructors and, together with the children, develop a camp designed to empower the children’s creative process, building upon THEIR collaboration of imaginations and interests.
And so, we began with concepts about CHARACTER. Through monologue writing, costume design, and creative exploration of physical, vocal, and emotional character traits, each camper brought to life their OWN unique character. We had mad scientists, tough guys, teddy bears, sassy cheerleaders, lovesick gamblers, junk robots, old ladies, kindly lottery winners, news reporters, and even a diamond-smuggling koala inhabiting our garbage-strewn community. We also had a lot of characters like orphans, homeless persons, and folks who suffered with mental illness. They brought a pathos to our stories that I hadn’t expected. Some of these campers used the idea of “refuse” to give voice to members of society who had been “thrown away.” Put all together, there was some silliness, some sadness, and a lot of heart among the denizens of this garbage dump world.
After establishing that first concept of CHARACTER, we moved into the creation of STORY, by interviewing each character, selecting story-building teams, then allowing the campers to “play” in bringing their characters together. This “play” would be the beginning of our play. First we’d discover character-driven scenarios, and from these scenarios loose scripts would be developed into the five different “tales” that would become the focus of our garbage dump production. Add to each episode costumes and props designed by the campers through collaboration with VSC’s Costume Designer Jeni Schaefer, and soon the scene-lets would be ready to rehearse. Put into a running order and directed by VSC Resident Artist Tommy Coleman, these scenes took shape into a show. And, to add the element of film, our technologically-brilliant camp interns Angelica Richardson and Marcus Joyner recorded bite-sized introductions from each character and even words from some of the inanimate trash objects to add variety to our program!
From creation to performance, our goal was simple: that the ideas would come from the kids, and that a positive spirit of working together would develop to put those ideas in action. I think we succeeded. Did the campers have fun? Yes! Did they learn about theatre? Also, yes! And did they discover a pride in seeing their work come to life in a creative collaboration? Most definitely, yes.