Spirits in the Material World: How Acting Camp Can Ground Your Tweeting, Texting Teen/Tween on Terra Firma

Like sirens to sailors, the internet beckons to us every second of the day. Here’s a Wikipedia citation you can trust:  “since the mid-1990s the Internet has had a drastic impact on culture and commerce…” Drastic, indeed…and coming at you and your family with the force of a tsunami.    Open your home page and crises, near and abroad, hover ominously over celebrity fat photos that beg for a peek…or two or three.  (Without make-up?  Yes, please!)  Katy Perry, Kate Middleton, Katniss Everdeen?  Hello!…just a click away, and but a fractious sampling of the multiplicity of tentacles that reach through the internet’s ether to grab your attention.  Why not just give in?

The problem with full out surrender to this dizzying panoply of distraction is that the Internet’s Adventure Land is uncharted terrain resembling both Alice’s Rabbit Hole and Sleeping Beauty’s Maze of Brambles, where neither safe return nor timely awakening are assured nor guaranteed.

You, as loving guardian, cannot gift a shield strong enough for your child to withstand the exponentially proliferating onslaught of the internet’s easily accessed Good, Bad, Ugly and Truly Terrifying.  You can, however, offer a strong Lifeline to  Planet Earth’s physical, present day reality.  As an Acting Coach and Theatre Director, I admit my bias, but Acting–particularly Stage Acting–can serve as that Lifeline.

Yes, art classes, sports, hiking, pottery or pastry-making are noble pursuits that antidote the tendency for kids to tune out amidst their techno-toys.  But, IMAO–and years of experience–a well designed and taught Acting Camp program quickly builds  (1) Focus, (2) Discipline, (3) Critical thinking (4) Leadership and (5) Compassion.   These are the self same tools your child needs to manage the wonders of, and defend against the the dangers of, cyberspace’s ‘brave new world.’

How does a young person benefit from an Acting Camp?  Here are some of the benefits we foster and see gloriously manifested every year at The Summer Theatre Camp of Montclair:

 Focus:   While our campsite is clean, beautiful and inviting, our camp program is profound in its simplicity and refreshingly devoid of technological distractions.  (I sometimes jokingly refer to The Summer Theatre Camp of Montclair as the “No Bells and Whistles Camp.”)  Young people fall in love with the uncluttered clarity of the environment:  shiny wood floors, scripts, music and Our Own Wonderful Selves.  It’s an exhilarating formula!  Less distractions=more opportunity to concentrate.  Voila!  Our focus is stronger, longer and more consolidated.

  Discipline:  Because our day is built on tasks that are mental and physical, the habituation of these tasks builds strength.  When we develop the habit of performing these tasks at the same time each day, with the support of our cast mates and instructors, we become stronger, more competent and, henceforth, more disciplined with each repetition.

 Critical Thinking:   Along with repetition for memorization, acting involves the effort to understand meaning and to convey meaning to our cast mates, director and audience.    This is done through asking questions, learning word meanings, reading vocal, facial and physical cues and discriminating what is of lesser and greater importance in a scene or play.  Acting requires us to also know the ‘meaning underneath the meaning‘ or, in theatrical lingo, the sub-text…and sub-text is where Truth lies is all conversation, onstage and off.  Critical thinking is an essential life skill professionally, personally and socially.  However, the most important aspect of critical thinking  is the ability to determine how to spend ones’ time–and life–for its utmost most significance.

Leadership:  Each day, camp participants arrive, fresh from sleep and dropped off at our campsite, unadorned and simply clad.  Throughout the course of the day they work with acting coaches, a yoga coach, a vocal coach, a choreographer, and some great assistants. Through this work, we learn acceptance of each other’s strengths and how to shore up the parts of us that need more strengthening.   The problem-solving is rich and of a higher order in Acting Camp because theatrical process is the meeting of challenges of time, space, budget and personality in the most efficient way possible,   This problem-solving, coupled with inspiration, is a formula for confidence and Leadership

Compassion (the most notable of our Life Tools):  Smart phones, gaming devices, ipads, laptops, etcetera, are left at our stage door.  In their absence, the glossy patina of clever-ish snark is replaced by sincere, patient communication.   Instead of peering into our phones or computers, we peer into each other’s eyes to discover that we are all pieces of one beautifully fractured pane of glass.  And when we choose to gather the shattered pieces and hold them up, we can see through to each other.  And wonder of wonders, those same transparent fragments of glass reflect our own identities back to ourselves, piece by lovely piece.