This summer will be Arena Stage’s 13th year hosting Camp Arena Stage, a multi-arts day-camp. Campers (ages 8-15) have the opportunity to create their own schedule from the 75+ activities offered, including improv, rock band, podcasting, filmmaking, crossword design, hip-hop dance, songwriting, Chekov, aerial art, and more. All classes are taught by professional, working artists in a variety of art subjects. Campers also get the opportunity to perform for the rest of the camp every day during the noontime show. Some campers have even gone on to be cast in Arena Stage productions, including this season’s Carousel and last season’s Oliver! and Akeelah and the Bee.
As Director of Community Engagement and Co-Director of Camp Arena Stage, Anita Maynard-Losh is in her 13th season at Arena Stage. And she’s representative of the professionals the children have the chance to work with and learn from. Anita directed the world premiere of Our War and served as associate director on several productions, including Carousel, Oliver! and Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End. Anita trained and taught at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, was on the faculty at Webster University in St. Louis, headed the theater department at the University of Alaska Southeast and was the associate artistic director of Perseverance Theater in Juneau, Alaska. The Alaska native-inspired production of Macbeth that Anita conceived and directed was performed in English and Tlingit at the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. Through Arena Stage’s devised theater program, Voices of Now, Anita has collaborated on creating and directing original plays with communities in India and Croatia.
We asked Anita to answer some questions about Camp Arena Stage and the growing popularity of the program that redefines what a summer camp experience can be.
This is your 13th year with Camp Arena Stage. How has the program evolved during that time? What changes will you make this summer?
We have continued to add different activities over the years, which is always exciting as they are based on the passions of the teaching artists that we hire. So we know that we will have the tried and true big hits every summer—like Hip Hop, Shakespeare, Improvisation, Musical Theater, Filmmaking, Rock Band, Painting, etc.—but we also have offerings that are the specialties of the individual artists—like Chinese Brush Painting, Spoken Word, Mosaics, Scene Design, and Pop/Rock Voice. We are also lucky to have some instructors that have been with us for ten years or more, as well as faculty who are joining us for the first time. We even now have a couple of former campers who went off to pursue their degrees and careers and are now back as instructors!
How is working with and directing young people different from working with and directing adults?
Young people have an amazing capacity for growth and change. For example, just because a camper might not be able to do something like match pitch when singing one summer doesn’t at all mean that they won’t be able to do it the following summer. Young people need a place where they can try different kinds of art and be encouraged to find their unique artistic voices.
They need to have the opportunity to try things and have it be okay not to be perfect at something right away. They need to learn to celebrate the art that is in them and their ability to express that in varied ways.
What type of young person is the perfect fit for Camp Arena?
I wish that every young person in the world could come to Camp because of the supportive, nurturing community that exists there. You don’t need to prove anything to come to camp, you just need to want to try new things, explore art, and help make an environment where everyone feels welcome, respected and appreciated.
What reasons do the children give for wanting to attend this Camp?
Campers give a lot of different reasons for wanting to come to Camp. One is that they love being with other young people who enjoy doing a variety of art forms. They also love being able to choose their own schedules from all the offered options. They love the choices of daily activities that they have, because there are so many different ways to be an artist at Camp. If you like to perform, there are lots of theater, dance, and music classes, but if you are not a performer there are many visual arts, writing and filmmaking offerings. Or you can mix it up and tailor your own schedule that is right for you!
Some of the children attending the Camp have been cast in Arena productions. How does that happen?
When the casting director at Arena Stage is looking for young people to fill roles in our productions, we are usually one of the first stops. We will be asked to suggest campers that fit the requirements of the characters, and they will be contacted and asked to audition. It’s up to the casting director and director whether or not they get the role, but they get the opportunity because of having been at Camp.
What activities are most popular in the Camp?
One of the campers’ favorite things is that we have a show after lunch every day at Camp Arena Stage. It’s a variety show that campers can sign up to be part of, and instructors can sign up their classes to be part of—so if you have a skill, talent or demonstration that you want to share with the whole camp, you can take the stage and share it. So they are either performing in or watching a show every single day after lunch! Another special thing at camp is our Choice period—after the show there is a recreation period where surprise activities are offered. There will be a list of activities and campers need to decide right then and there what they want to do for the next 45 minutes—the list might include very physical things like ultimate Frisbee or dance party while also having quieter activities like playing board games or making friendship bracelets or just fun choices like singalongs or stage makeup. Every day there are over a dozen surprise activities in the Choice period, to allow the campers to have some unexpected fun to break up the day before going back to their regular classes.
What classes might be surprising to those not familiar with Camp Arena?
Classes that you might not expect at an arts camp are Pickup Sports, Newspaper and Surprise Squad, which is a class that focuses on doing random acts of kindness. New arts classes include Graphic Design, Clowning, String Ensemble, Solo Performance and Weirdism!
To participate in rock band, does a child have to know how to play a musical instrument?
Most campers in the rock band have played their instrument for at least a year, but there is also room in the rock band for vocalists and people who can shake a mean tambourine.
Are parents and guests able to visit the noontime shows?
Yes, parents and guests can visit the noontime shows, however since it is a gated campus, we like to be able to give a heads up to the guard to expect them.
Can you tell us about some of the professionals who will visit the Camp this summer?
Some of our instructors have performed on Broadway, on National Tours or at Arena Stage; some have had their writing published or had a gallery showing; and sometimes we get special guests that are visiting Arena Stage for professional reasons to talk to our campers. For example, a couple of summers ago Ben Platt (Pitch Perfect) and Laura Dreyfus (Glee) spoke with our campers when they were at Arena Stage rehearsing the new musical Dear Evan Hansen, which originated at Arena Stage but is now a big Broadway hit nominated for nine Tony Awards.
Why do you enjoy running this Camp?
I love to see the campers grow and come into their own through exploring art. I also love being in such a positive environment with a group of artist-educators that want to give every single child the Best Summer Ever.
Do you keep in touch with some of the children who have attended in the past? Any interesting/inspiring stories to share?
We keep in touch with many of our campers—frequently after they “age out” of camp they will go into our Musical Theater Training Company, which is our intensive for high school students—that’s what Emma Sophie Moore did, who performed in our production of Carousel this season. We have some campers who become part of our year long Voices of Now devised theater program and come to Arena during the school year to create original theater. We also have several former campers who apply to be counselors-in-training at Camp, and we hire them to assist in classes and with the running of camp. And as I mentioned earlier, we have two instructors at camp this summer who were campers at one time and are now coming back to teach.
Top photo: Anita Maynard-Losh
Photos courtesy of Arena Stage