Camp Broadway campers practice a dance routine.Courtesy Camp Broadway.

Summer Camp: You hear those words and you think log cabins, mosquito bites, reluctant teenagers, birdhouses made of popsicle sticks, and vacation; A place where kids stay so parents can get away. But there’s another type of camp that is often underrated: Theater camp.

Aside from the references like the movie musical CAMP and the TV show Glee, most have no idea what theater camp is really about, and probably would assume that a kid has to want to be a performer to join such a camp.  Most of these establishments are actually trying to stray from the idea that they are strictly theater or performing arts camps, and place more of an emphasis on team building and people building skills.

San Antonio has a few summer theater camps that are well worth mentioning. The theater community is on the rise, and it is refreshing to see so many opportunities for the city’s youth to perform.

Camp Broadway is coming to San Antonio all the way from New York City thanks to the wonderful Las Casas Foundation. Las Casas has a strong tradition in keeping the theater alive and in giving back to the community. In the past six years, they have given $500,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors going on to purse their careers in the arts.

Camp Broadway campers practicing dancing. Photo courtesy Camp Broadway.
Camp Broadway campers practicing dancing. Photo courtesy Camp Broadway.

The camp started out in New York, where campers could have the opportunity to do shows on an actual Broadway stage. All of the staff who will be coming here to San Antonio have been trained by and are affiliated with the mother company in New York, and they all have had Broadway or National Tour experience, and sometimes even both.

Campers will be split up into two age groups (10-13 and 14-17) and will go to different workshops throughout the day. The six day intensive camp will take place at The Charline McCombs Empire Theater, where kids will have the opportunity to go to musical, vocal, dance, and directorial workshops throughout the day. Camp Broadway will also make use of local resources, such as Q&A sessions with local actors.

At the end of the camp, the two groups will put on two amazing shows, Seussical Jr. and Once on This Island Jr., where family and friends can come see them dazzle on stage. There are 100 slots available and 20 scholarships as well. The camp will run from August 4-8 and registration is open now.

I got the chance to speak to Kevin Parman, a board member of Las Casas Foundation, who really put into perspective for me how important Camp Broadway is. My partner and I have a history in theater world of New York, so I know how incredibly hard it is to succeed as a performer.

“It’s a tough gig,” Parman said, “we want to find that talent at a young age and help develop it.”

We also touched upon how sometimes families are not necessarily supportive of kids wanting to go into the arts. Parman noted, “we are able to give these people at this age a pat on the back and the support they need.” Parman is excited for Camp Broadway, as this is the first time that anyone has attempted bringing it to San Antonio. Campers will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work at a professional level with Broadway performers. In a town where 80-85 percent of kids haven’t been to the Empire or Majestic Theaters, this is a huge opportunity.

Camp Broadway campers during a live performance. Image courtesy Camp Broadway.
Camp Broadway campers during a live performance. Image courtesy Camp Broadway.

Performing Arts San Antonio is one of San Antonio’s best-kept secrets. Nestled over by 281 and Thousand Oaks, it does a fine job of reaching the theater community further outside of the centralized downtown areas.

“We had pulled students all the way from Eagle Pass, Smithson Valley, and New Braunfels, said Paul Tinder, co-founder of PASA. “We have a big footprint.”

Tinder built PASA from the ground up, together with his wife Vaughn. They offer film and audition prep classes, as well as demo recording and script analysis, which is hard to find in San Antonio. PASA is equipped with an in-house photographer for headshots, a fully-loaded recording studio for cutting tracks, and even South Coast Talent Management, a team dedicated to helping connect PASA students with agencies in New York and Los Angeles. They invite agencies to their showcases- which are all ensemble-based.

“Nobody’s a tree,” Tinder said of the campers. “We divide up dialogue and characters so that everyone is showcased and has an equal part to play onstage.” With over 50 campers this year, PASA is able to offer more individual attention to each student.  They also offer adult sessions on Wednesday evenings, focusing on script analysis, character building, and improv.

“The goal is to go from an actor auditioning, to a character experiencing a moment,” Tinder said.

PASA has three different summer camps open to different age levels, and there is still time to register.

The Magik Theater has been running Camp Showbiz since 1997 and has grown substantially. This year, they are expecting 800 campers total, with 125-150 campers during each summer session. Due to the growing demand, they will hire 4 to 6 additional lead teachers, 12 to 15 college counselors, and several high school volunteers. This year there will be a real shift towards the curriculum, with teach different skills that build on one another. College interns will be teaching classes such as vocal protection, theater for social change, and even using movies like Beauty and the Beast and Frozen to talk about heroes and victims. Every camper will also met for 30 minutes with teachers specializing in prop, master, wardrobe, tech etc. The children will still be writing their own scripts based on literary character and the program will retain its core value of literacy.

Magik Theater's Camp Showbiz during a musical practice. Photo courtesy Magik Theater.
Magik Theater’s Camp Showbiz during a musical practice. Photo courtesy Magik Theater.

Camp Showbiz is very community oriented, and many campers go on to become teachers. Alex Poncio, a member of the famous Upright Citizen’s Brigade in Los Angeles, will be teaching improv at the camp, but began his journey as a camper with the Magik theater.

Shelley Webber, the Director of Education and Outreach, notes that Magik has had a “long history of successful summer camps.”

“The majority of campers are returners. People have moved all the way up, like Alex Poncio. It’s not a summer job, it’s a full time job,” she said. “I’m not trying to build Broadway stars, I’m trying to build amazing human beings, who have all of these skills you need to be an amazing employee, parent, student, et cetera. Our goal is to help them become great people.”

Registration is still open for all of the  summer sessions, so be sure to check it out.

The Woodlawn is also offering unique-themed camps such as a stage make-up session, Camp Tarzan, where kids can work with the directors and actors of the upcoming production, and even a Happily Ever After Camp– all in addition to their main Broadway Bound camp, which is currently in session. The Woodlawn has faculty who are native to San Antonio and have gained professional experience in New York and touring, such as Eric Mota, who has dropped by to choreograph Tarzan.

The two-week Broadway Bound camp will end on June 27, with two variety shows of Broadway music planned.

Updated Monday, June 23, 2014:

The Playhouse San Antonio is also offering a wide array of different camps this summer at the Russell Hill Rogers Theater. Camps for all ages will explore technical aspects of theater such as stage combat and dance. The Playhouse will also host Design Camp focusing on costuming, stage makeup and lights from June 23-27.

The set of a production is a crucial part to theater and it can either make or break a play – be sure to enroll your kids or nieces/nephews in this camp if they like being the masterminds behind the scenes. There will also be a one week intensive camp focusing on auditioning for film. An added benefit is that you will leave this camp with your very own demo reel.

Lastly, The Playhouse will be offering a two week intensive camp where kids will get to work with the professional cast of their 2013-2014 season production of The Wizard of Oz. Students will rehearse scenes with the actors and put on their own finale presentation. Find out more at www.theplayhousesa.org.

*Featured/top image: Camp Broadway students during a dance routine. Courtesy Camp Broadway.

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Kevin Tobar Pesantez

Kevin Tobar Pesantez has worked as a Workshop Facilitator of the Boy’s Town Detention Center, developing spoken word, hip hop and theater workshops in Brooklyn, and as a playwright and actor in cultural...