“Lights! Camera! Action!” Ah, those words are music to my ears whenever I hear them, or say them, or even think them in my head. And this week they happen all over again with a completely new group of kids…and Jonah.
I find the script I am looking for in the bottom of my old Emily Dickinson boxes. For years I directed summer theater at Hamilton Elementary School. We met for four hours a day for a month. We wrote a script and produced a show with costumes, make-up and sets, and ended our month with a rousing original melodrama to a great house in the auditorium. I look at the names on these scripts. Most of the students have now graduated and moved on to college and professions. All that remains are smudged up old scripts that still have fun stories for middle school students. I find the one I am looking for, “The Perilous Carnival,” toss it into my bag and load up the old Jeep.
This is my second year with the LaGrange Community Youth Center, and I am excited about another year with new kids. I pick up Jonah as he has decided to come to Drama Camp and meet new kids and try out for the part of student director.
Driving to LaGrange early in the morning is a bit like the opening of a movie. Hay fields, slow moving tractors and mist on the old barns join our conversation. When we arrive at Howe Military Academy, I miss the auditorium and drive around the small campus. When I finally find it, we park and haul out our gear to the welcoming “hellos” from Megan Vanderoest and Mimi Wismer. They will be our two adult helpers for the week, and I know from experience that they are also in for a whirlwind.
They already have the doors to the auditorium open and the stage lights on. I stop and stare in wonder (as always) for a few moments before walking down the aisle. One by one the Drama Camp students arrive, boisterous and full of energy … they are, after all, middle school students. They also have no idea of the amount of work and effort they are going to put in to this week.
We circle up our chairs on the scarred stage to become acquainted, and it isn’t long before we are interacting in theater games, practicing our bowing and singing to one another. If stage fright is their accompaniament, it is already long gone.
We break for lunch and they head out into the hot sun to run and play, but come in quickly as the heat of the day joins with the excitement of the show.
We again circle up. We talk about the show including props, costumes and scripts. We spend time learning the terms they will need in our short week, such as how to balance the stage, tableaux (French for maintaining a position, some may call it freezing in place), stage right, stage left, upstage, downstage, playbills and so much more. They do not take notes; this is summer camp not classroom work, but they learn it all quickly.
Early on Tuesday auditions are held and parts are given out along with the script. I watch how they hold each script … some carry it delicately, others roll it up, and I tell them to take the script everywhere. We do a cold read and call it a day.
By Thursday morning, the invitations have been sent home, the bios written and typed into the playbills, costumes and props wait in the wing and at 12:30 we produce a melodrama in three acts with my Student Director, Jonah. I sit in the audience and hold my breath. The work has been accomplished in four short days, and now I let them go.
Jonah takes the stage and welcomes the audience. He asks everyone to shut off their cell phones. It is hushed and quiet and the curtains open, and we have a show. I laugh the loudest, clap the heartiest and beam with pride.
Afterwards there are flowers and photos. The parents are amazed at what we accomplished in these four short days. Me too, actually.
We strike the show, clean up everything and I am the last to walk out. I give a final bow to all who helped make this happen,
“Lights, camera, action!” One more time.