Campers walk around the room in random directions, their lips pursed in contemplation as they move in the manner of their characters. Chris Brophy, their director for this exercise, explains, "When you're trying to act something out - a bike pedal for example - you really have to close your eyes and realize that it's not about how others would see you, you just have to feel how you would move. It's not about what everyone else is doing, it's about what you're doing."
The self-confidence that is mandatory in theater and often necessary in life is one of the many skills that are taught and nurtured at the IMP Theatre Camp, a camp dedicated to giving children the "opportunity to explore theater in a safe, supportive hands-on manner." Executive Director Donna Swift says, "Right now we have around 30 campers, aged six to sixteen. There's a full range from serious theater kids to kids who are trying it out for the first time, and they all blend pretty well together. There's also a good mix of off- Island and on-Island kids. "
The IMP Theatre Camp was started years ago when Ms. Swift, an original WIMP member who teaches in schools on the Island, wanted to focus on teaching improvisation in the summer, and decided that the best way was to start her own camp.
The camp is divided into five different sessions over the summer. The one-week sessions end in presentations on the beach for parents. The two-week sessions focus on a two-act show that takes place at the end of the second week.
Campers are given choices of activities from start to finish. After morning warm-ups they can choose to work on music or movement. Later in the day there are choices of several different theater activities. There are adaptations of nursery rhymes, where the script is built off of improvisation; technical theater, where students prepare everything from costumes to scenery; and 15-minute Hamlet, where students learn to perform the entirety of Hamlet in progressively shorter amounts of time.
Della Burke, one of several young "IMPterns" who has been attending camp for years and is now directing the nursery rhymes, says, "We have the kids walk around assuming the personality and traits of various animals and inanimate objects and it's amazing how quickly the kids can become a character. They naturally transform their posture."
Photos by Ralph Stewart
The energy of the students is abundant yet focused. Even with kids as young as six, directions rarely need to be given twice. Says counselor Ed Cisek, "You have to match kids' energy or they won't listen to you. I try to make them realize that you need to be professional in theatre but that there's a natural balance between being professional and having fun. "
When given the option to go to the playground after lunch, many of the campers declined. Camper Hailey Yetman says, "I don't enjoy the playground, I'd rather be acting." Another camper, Kaitlyn Seaton agrees: "Totally, with a 'T.'"
The atmosphere is exciting and rings with quick-witted responses. When counselor Ed Cisek jokingly tells a group of campers, "Be sure to tell the reporter how awesome I am," camper Kyra Whalen doesn't miss a beat: "Ed's awesome. He's six-foot four."
One of the main agreements is that there are no mistakes, only gifts. Says Mr. Brophy, "Building confidence in the kids starts with giving them respect and promoting team building. You have to make sure that kids don't feel stupid about anything. Nothing on a stage is a screw-up - whatever happens you just take it and go with it."
Organizers plan to keep the camp operating every summer. Says Mr. Brophy, "We're starting to have dynasties. Some of the original WIMP members back in the '90s now have their kids here at camp. Students that we began with five years ago are now teaching as Impterns."
For information about future camp sessions, workshops, and performances, call 508-939-9368, or visit troubledshores.com.
Ben Williams is a recent graduate of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.