As a former child actor, all I wanted to do was eat, breathe, and live theater. For me, that meant spending my summer doing show after show after show. I wanted to be with kids who “got” me. I didn’t hang around with the popular crowd or the intellectuals. Socially, my comfort zone was with the theater geeks. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend eight weeks of my summer than fitting in and doing what I loved. As an adult, I also spent my summers at theater camps directing and teaching so I have some experience with these programs that might be of interest to you.
1. Does your child want an overnight or day camp? I was only seven years old when I went to a sleep-away camp for eight full weeks. I was very independent and loved a sleepover every night of the week. This may or may not work for your child. Today there are lots of available options ranging from two to eight weeks of overnight camp. If your child does not like to be away from you and may get homesick, then choosing a day camp may be the perfect solution for now. Either type of theater camp program will offer the same kinds of activities with classes in acting, voice, dance, and rehearsing and putting on a show. I think the main difference is that the overnight camp experience will teach your child independence and responsibility while fostering close-knit, lifelong relationships with other young performers.
2. Does your child want only theater or an all around camp experience? Overnight camps, such as Stagedoor Manor, focus only on theatre arts. Although there is an outside pool, there are no sports or fine arts programs. Their goal is education, performance, and community. They validate kids’ passions and encourage them to build relationships with other kids like themselves doing what they love – theater! Agents, managers, and casting directors love to visit this camp in the summer to scout new talent. There are also options such as Frenchwoods Festival of the Performing Arts. This is another wonderful sleep-away camp, which places a strong emphasis on the performing arts. However, they also offer a wide variety of programs in everything from a circus to art to cooking. Industry pros also visit this camp in hopes of discovering the next big star. Another option is a camp like Long Lake Camp for the Arts in the Adirondacks. This unbeatable, spectacular mountain setting offers a non-competitive, full-camp experience in addition to the performing arts. This camp has a different vibe in that campers can choose daily what they would like to do.
3. What size camp is right for your child? Again, there are many options when it comes to camp size. With about 290 campers, the staff at Stagedoor knows everyone by name. Even smaller, Long Lake has 250 campers per session with a staff of 160. Frenchwoods can have upwards of 800 campers. When you are interviewing camps, ask the question, “How many campers do you have, and how many are in a bunk?” Only you know if your child will do better in a smaller or larger camp community.
4. How much will it cost? Sleep-away camp used to be affordable. At today’s price tag of $3000-$5000 for a three-and-a-half-week session, some camps have become cost prohibitive for many people. Here’s the truth – they are all expensive! Here’s a secret tip – everything is negotiable. Ask about scholarships. I know that some camps want and need boys, so they may offer a discount or even a free ride in some cases. If you don’t ask, you will never know what might be available.
As we all know, the school year can be stressful on kids, especially young working actors who carry the burden of both work and school. Summer camp should be fun!
Keep this in mind as you choose the best summer camp experience for your young performer.
Master your craft, empower yourself and enjoy the journey!
Denise Simon is a New York-based acting coach and career consultant who has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 25 years as an actor, teacher, director, and personal talent manager. For 10 years, she was an associate with Fox Albert Management, one of the leading talent management companies in New York, where she managed such clients as Scarlett Johansson, Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino, Lacey Chabert (“Party of Five”), and Judy Reyes (NBC’s “Scrubs”). Denise has coached hundreds of children and young adults appearing regularly on Broadway and in television and film, as well as educating parents on the business of show business.