Around F.C.

Theater Camps Teach the Arts & Life Skills to Children of All Ages

When one thinks about the theater and performing in a show, they probably think it’s a way that a person can learn how to memorize lines or act with others. However, it can also be a way for young adults to learn about empathy and communication skills, as well as raise their self-esteem. 

During the summer months, children can take part in camps and programs that explore the world of theater and what it takes to be an actor. According to a January 10th article by The New York Times, theater can also impact a child — between the ages of 5 and 18 — on developing their communication skills across age, gender and race. These communication skills can lead to someone possessing higher self-esteem and enjoying happier relationships. 

The City of Falls Church hosts a variety of camps over the summer months, including programs focused on theater, improvisation and acting. Ashley Hammond is the managing director for Educational Theatre Company, which partners with the Little City to provide theater camps. This summer, Hammond said the city will be offering four theater camps catered to third through eighth grade children that focus on musical theater, theater skills, comedy improvisation and skits or sketches. 

The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s main goal for hosting their theater camps is to give children an opportunity to “explore” what theater is all about. (Photo: Heather Sanderson)

Hammond said that participating in these theater camps can help a child to learn about empathy and team-building skills; things she stated were interrupted due to the pandemic. She also said the teachers for the camps and programs are really good at making sure an individual child’s needs are met while keeping the rest of the group moving forward, she said.

As for how these theater camps can impact a child outside of the program and in the real world, Hammond said it can make children “better listeners, as well as learning how to work with others and becoming comfortable with public speaking.” One important thing she stated she has seen is that the theater camps can help a child “open their eyes to other cultures and worlds,” giving them an opportunity to understand various points of views. 

“It’s about making a good human,” Hammond said, “and I think theater brings young adults sympathy for other people.” 

Heather Sanderson, the governor of education for The Little Theatre of Alexandria, said the main goal of providing theater camps and programs is to give children an “opportunity to explore what theater is all about, as well as broaden their horizons.” Since its opening almost 90 years ago, The Little Theatre offers about 50 camps and programs that take place between mid-June through the end of August. 

“We’ve been told that these camps really open kids’ eyes to all sorts of different performing arts opportunities,” Sanderson said. 

Sanderson also said theater camps can be a way for children to create friendships and learn and improve skills “they already have or want to build on.” She also said a child’s confidence can blossom from attending these camps and programs: A child who may be shy on the first day of camp on a Monday can gain enough self-esteem to perform in front of an audience on the last day of camp on a Friday. 

“There is something about the programs that make kids feel great about themselves,” Sanderson said. “They learn to cheer each other on and to be supportive of their peers.” 

During the spring and summer breaks, Creative Cauldron offers theater camps based around a certain theme, which can explore “multicultural myths” to folktales, as well as a popular musical theater summer program. 

“These camps really offer an opportunity for some kids to get their feet wet for the first time in acting, theater and the arts,” Creative Cauldron’s founding artistic director Laura Connors Hull told the News-Press. “It’s really important to honor creative ideas in kids and to give them a sense of agency about that.” 

Hull further stated participation in these camps is a way a child can learn about working with others as a team. This can lead to “great collaboration and communication skills processes, while also learning to develop self-confidence,” she said. 

“I can’t tell you how many former students have come back to say the experience they had at this performing arts camp helped them feel more comfortable when they were speaking in public and in all aspects of their lives,” Hull said. “These camps really develop social and emotional intelligence.” 

The Traveling Players Ensemble hosts theater camps and conservatories for children from June to August. These camps can range from one week day camps to six week camps, including a one week sleepaway camp option. Greek myths, fairy tales and Shakespeare are taught and performed by the attendees of the camp, who range from young children to high schoolers. 

Jeanne Harrison, the founder and producing artistic director for the Traveling Players said the main goal of hosting these camps and conservatories is providing “joy and connection.” She further stated these camps can be a way that children can figure out who they are while also learning how to memorize lines, lead others, think on their feet and “free up their imagination.” 

Morgan Shotwell is the director of communication outreach at the Traveling Players as well as a theater camp “alum.” She said taking part in these camps can teach both soft skills, such as communication and connecting with others, as well as “hard life” skills that can teach them about independence, such as learning how to do their own laundry and cleaning their dishes while attending the sleep away camp program. 

“It’s really easy to do camp chores, but it lets them take ownership of their space and their experience,” Shotwell said. 

Both Harrison and Shotwell said these types of camps and conservatories, such as the weekly theater camps and sleepaway camp, can give young adults the ability to go to college and “find their footing really fast” due to them learning both creativity and independence.