Day 1: The stage is still dark when I arrive. The floors are scuffed from moving furniture or spilling glitter or dropping paint. It adds to the charm. When I am on an empty dark stage, my imagination wanders to all who have added their footprints. I do hear the echo from the years of stories and songs and the faint whisper of clapping.
This is a new stage for us this year. Howe Military Academy has been home to the LaGrange County Youth Center for several years, but now? Now our new home for drama camp is Lakeland High School, and there are many crooks and crannies to explore … the stage, the green room, the hide-away closets.
It isn’t long before the kids, and for now we will call them kids, arrive for drama camp. There are returns, of which I am very grateful, but lots of new, fresh faces not knowing what to expect, but excited about all the possibilities.
My right hand helper, Ana Wahl, is back again with her clipboard and ready to work. (I could not do this drama camp without her!) Jennifer Martin, the director of LCYC, is cheery and ready to go bringing in coolers for lunch and making sure all the supplies are in order. The truth is, my job is so easy with those two on board. All I have to do is direct a show!
The show this year has been resurrected and redone from the Emily Dickinson Players, my long lost Hamilton Elementary School theater company. We were active for years! As I was re-writing the script last week, I could vividly see the faces of those students and hear their own voices in the roles we wrote together. The show, like all of my original melodramas, is an audience whodunit kind of show, “The Phantom Desperado.”
Back to Monday morning. We sit in a circle knee to knee getting to know one another. I watch and listen as they speak and move. Ana takes notes too. Within an hour, the scripts are handed out. Lunch is served, we audition, and do a cold read. Done.
Tuesday morning: Everyone arrives with dog eared scripts from lots of family rehearsal time! They are ready to go and excited about costumes and make-up. We sit knee to knee and go over the show. It is a long show with four big scenes. Hmmm … can we do this? After lunch we block the show. They learn about stage right, stage left, tableau (my favorite), director’s announcements, and so many other terms. No curtains. No costumes. No make-up. Later, I say. The script is long and I do not expect them to learn it all. “It’s OK,” I say, “to keep the script in your hand. I am asking you to learn a show that should take a month!!” But those kids … but those actors!
Wednesday morning: We say “hello” briefly and get right back to work. At one point, I toss my script on the ground and tell them to “take five.” (Directors have to quit at least once in every show!) They come back wide-eyed and off we go again. After lunch, our tech guy, Mel, shows up to run our lights and sound effects. Mel is a God-send giving up part of his summer vacation to bring magic to these students. Lights and costumes are added and the magic does indeed grow. We stay late on this day to work hard. These actors are all between the ages of 10 and 12 and yet they work harder than most adults. They do lines and scenes over and over and over until I am satisfied. I tell them to go home, sleep with their scripts, rest up.
Thursday morning: It is show day! Costumes, make-up, lights! We are ready and I am calm. Mel shows up again and we are off for our final dress rehearsal. I then sit them down in the front row and give my Emily Dickinson speech about this moment. I look at their young faces and it is all I can not to cry. I am so proud of them. I am bursting.
Show time and they are spectacular … not good … not OK … spectacular. We take cast photos, strike our show and tumble out of the theater.
Friday morning: As a thank you for their hard work we head up to Tibbits for their Popcorn theater and let them watch the magic from their seats.
Magic. That’s all I can say.