It's Friday afternoon on the Oklahoma City University campus, and excited, energetic young superheroes are making their way to the Kirkpatrick Fine Arts Center. This is the one day a week Oklahoma Children's Theatre summer campers get to show off all their hard work for a real audience.
The theme this year is “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Summer Camp!” and for some campers, performance day is the best part of their week.
“I like to perform for people, and we get to do plays or dances,” said Claire Davis, 9. Franklin Thiessen, 6, agreed. “My favorite part of camp is that we do a play on Friday,” he said.
According to Rozz Grigsby, community engagement and education director, an average of 1,200 children, ages 3 to 13, attend camp at Children's Theatre during the summer break. Typical summer camps are one week and special production camps are three weeks. Only the students in three-week production camps have to audition to attend.
There are many different theater-related classes offered, from musical theater to stage combat to filmmaking and even puppetry. Children who attend the entire summer have a different class each week, with a different performance every Friday. No two plays or films are alike, and the children learn more than just acting during a typical day.
“Depending on the class, typically a camp day will include movement games, team-building/ensemble-building activities, theater or specialty area lessons, play/project development, rehearsal and lots of creativity-based games and activities,” Grigsby said.
“Everything we do is hands-on experience and participation, but we do it without any performance pressure or ‘perfection pressure.' We are not trying to create the next generation of actors. If campers develop a desire to be actors, that's great, but it's not our primary goal. Our focus is on developing self-expression, increasing creative problem solving and collaboration, and encouraging the next generation of arts patrons.”
Lee Porter, 11, has been a regular camper since he was 6 years old. “(Camp) is awesome. We can learn stage combat, dance and digital stories. They do different things every week; it's never exactly the same.”
Victoria Le, 7, also is a camp veteran. “The games are my favorite part. I love learning new stuff,” she said.
Camp instructors are well-versed in their fields. They are pulled from two main areas — OCU performance disciplines or children's theater majors, and professionals who are working in the field.
“We have several teachers who are high school theater teachers during the school year,” said Grigsby. “Our filmmaking teacher is a professor in the OCU Moving Image Arts program, and Dr. Vic, who teaches the computer-based classes, is a professor at OU. We also have several teachers and assistants who have graduated from camper to volunteer to staff person, which is a legacy we love to see.”
In addition to instructors, volunteers are also integral to the running of camp classes. These volunteers are teens who have “graduated” from being a camper.
“One of the great things about (Oklahoma Children's Theatre) is the fact that it becomes a summer home for many kids, and even when they age out of the programming they still want to be here,” said Grigsby. “Volunteering is a great opportunity for them to use all their previous camp experience in a leadership role.”
The OCU campus itself also plays an important role to the camp's success. It has been home to Oklahoma Children's Theatre's since 2005. OCU provides space for all the theater's programs and in return, the theater works with students as performers, administrative support, assistants and in other capacities. The Children's Center for the Arts is the building where most camp activities take place.
Children's Theatre also offers fall, winter and spring break camps, before- and aftercare, and homeschool programs. There are also eight in-house and two statewide touring performances each year. Estimated annual attendance is approximately 42,500 for all activities.
For more information about the theater's programs, call 606-7003 or go to oklahomachildrenstheatre.org.