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CAMP INTREPID, Week One: A Pirate’s Life for Young Theatre Campers

June 21, 2013 –  Backstage at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre, a scruffy and bearded Erin Petersen, decked out in pirate makeup, looks at her group of scurvy costumed campers and smiles.

“Break a leg,” she says.

Moments later, she is welcoming the audience to the first ever Camp Intrepid performance, courtesy of the Young Actors Theatre Camp.

Erin, who serves as Intrepid’s internship program director, has been mentoring and teaching a small group of 8-15 year-olds for the past week, along with Artistic Director and Director of Education, Sean Cox. Today marks the campers’ final performance: a costumed, choreographed and thoroughly rehearsed production of a pirate musical for parents and friends.

Erin Petersen and the cast of the Young Actors Theatre Camp prepare for their performance.

“I told them if they had a real solid final dress [rehearsal], I’d do the makeup thing,” says Erin, commenting on her penciled-in mustache.

As the audience mills about the theatre finding seats that provide ample room for filming and picture-taking, many are unable to contain their enthusiasm for Camp Intrepid.

“Kenzie loves it, loves it, loves it…triple loves,” says Corrie Anderson, whose eight-year-old daughter is trying theatre camp for the first time, having never participated in drama classes or productions before. “She’s so sad that it’s over. The time flies by.”

Carlsbad resident Whitney DeSpain, whose daughter Abby, 9, plays one of the larger parts in today’s show, agrees.

“Abby adores it,” she says. “She’s having the best time and she loves Erin.” Somewhat of a theatre veteran already, having performed in numerous productions around town, Abby finds the Camp Intrepid experience extremely engaging.

Rachel Kanvesky teaches Abby DeSpain about pirating.

“In fact, she liked it so much, we signed up for the next week of it,” says Whitney.

As the audience settles, Erin takes her seat on the edge of the stage in case she needs to do any last minute prompting during the show. Set against the backdrop of a giant pirate flag, the campers enter the stage and begin a tale of buried treasure, new friendships, and the fun of finding the “pirate” in all of us. Halfway through, the kids burst out in a high seas song and dance number. The audience laughs at pirate puns and tears up when the group of wandering pillagers sings about home.

Two songs, one dance number, and one swordfight later, the cast – beaming with pride – takes their bows to riotous applause.

“They did an amazing job,” gushes Erin post-show. “I couldn’t have had better group of kids. Really, they were fabulous and so willing to do whatever we asked them to do.”

When commenting on the impact of theatre camp on a child’s academic and social life, Erin cannot say enough, although each time she speaks, she is interrupted by one of her young actors tackling her with a bear hug or shouting far-off strains of “Thank you, Miss Erin!”

Erin and Rachel share hugs and goodbyes.

“It’s just having fun,” Erin begins before the first hug comes in. “But it’s also very validating for the kids. They create a character and work on something together as a team –“ (Bear hug.) “ — and then they have that moment where they show it to people and surprise people with how much they did –“ (Bear hug.) “– in a short amount of time.” (“Thank you, Miss Erin!”)

“They might not think this is a career opportunity,” Erin continues once the hug-waves have subsided, “but the skills they learn in these camps are things they can use in many aspects. We work on tools like voice and movement and articulation, for example. If you are giving a report in front of class, you’d have to use those skills.”

Thanks to a community grant from the City of Encinitas and the Mizel Family Foundation, more students than ever will be able to participate in the camp experience and develop these critical skills. Full and partial scholarships are available for potential campers on a first-come, first-serve basis. (Download an application form.)

Marie-Laure Wagner-Hunsaker, who attended theatre camp when she was young because she was “too shy,” understands the value of this camp experience. “The camp trainers were actors and I remember very clearly the [theatre] exercises we did. I was super excited and super happy when Ari told me about the camp exercises he was doing here. I remember them.” Her son, Ari, 12, brought a little French accent to his part, and proved to be one of the most comedic actors in the bunch.

“Kids recognize the quality of the experience,” Marie-Laure continues. “They work very hard but it’s very fun. Ari says they laugh all day long.”

“This week surpassed my expectations,” says Sean Cox, who couldn’t be happier with the campers’ enthusiasm in this inaugural week of summer camp. “It’s great to discover that we are filling a niche in North County for professional theatre training for kids,” he says.

When cornered by parents about the possibility of offering year-round theatre classes, Sean smiles thoughtfully. “If there’s enough interest, we would be more than happy to continue classes in the winter,” he says. “Right now, we are just thrilled with the response.” — T.T.

Registration for a limited number of spots in upcoming Camp Intrepid sessions is still open, including the two Musical Theatre Camps (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown) and the Shakespeare Camp. Sessions run through August 16. 

Please email ChristyYael@intrepidshakespeare.com for more information about Camp Intrepid scholarship applications.