Putting kids onstage
Campers learn to love the spotlight - in the theater or in real life
At Danville's KAOS camp, which stands for Kids Acting on Stage, campers learn all the nuts and bolts of putting on a play. But they also learn confidence, social skills and self awareness. These talents go beyond drama, says camp director Jeff Seaberg.
"You don't have to be theater-savvy to gain from it or to learn from it," he says. "If they choose theater, great. But if not, and they find themselves, that's the job I'm doing."
Beyond the theater
Over a two-week session, the group of 50 kids ages 7 to 14 audition, memorize lines, rehearse, learn a choreographed dance, act in a short movie, and eventually perform a play at Danville's Village Theatre.
They also make new friends, reconnect with old ones, and have a blast.
While some of the KAOS campers hope to become professional actors, for the most part this drama camp isn't about discovering the next big star.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that I want them to go on to be a theater person. I want them to go on to be an effective human being," Seaberg says. "I tell the kids, you know, these are skills that work in other places, too."
Erin Morrissey, 12, a student at Charlotte Wood Middle School, recalls there was a time when she wasn't doing too well in speech competitions at school.
"After I did my first session here I was picked to go to the final round," she says. "You really learn confidence - and just speaking to people in front of a crowd."
"I'll tell you one thing, it makes you get better grades in school," agrees Maddi Silverman, 12, who also attends Charlotte Wood. "It helps you solve problems and get along with other people."
By observing the preteens and teens over the two weeks of camp, Seaberg says he can see changes in the way they carry themselves. The shy kids become more relaxed and open up.
"I think that you discover your inner self at this camp," says 12-year-old Bryce Manix.
Acting requires you have to understand yourself and be willing to put yourself "out there," even when it feels vulnerable. It can be scary, but like a lot of scary things, that's part of what makes it fun.
The show must go on
It's no small feat to build a play from scratch but the kids are always up to the challenge, says Seaberg. The first week of camp is spent at Hap Magee Ranch Park auditioning, rehearsing and filming the movie. During the second week the troupe moves into the Village Theatre where costumes, props, sets, lighting and music are added.
"It's intense," says Seaberg. Luckily, there are plenty of people to lend a hand. A group of directors and full-time counselors, plus a few counselors-in-training, help him manage the gregarious bunch of kids.
He also has plenty of experience. He earned his degree in theater with a minor in education and went on to teach drama, speech and English at a public high school. He's also been running drama camps for 15 years.
"I'm still keeping my feet wet as a performer," he adds. "I walk the walk and I talk the talk." He's been in several local shows and produced "Wigged Out," which recently ended its 15-year run in Danville.
This summer, KOAS campers will perform "Club Groovy" and "Stumpy Magee and the Legend of the Lost Gold," both written by Seaberg. He makes sure to write enough characters so every kid has a role. The older and more experienced actors are usually cast in the leads, while the younger kids will play less serious parts like dogs or cats.
Part of what makes the camp educational and fun is the hands-on training that comes from everyone having a role in the show, and the personal attention that comes with it, says Seaberg. "It allows them to shine as an individual."
Theater vs. sports
Another thing that makes the camp special is the supportive environment it creates for the kids, the director says.
"The thing that I find that I like about theater over sports ... in sports it's a competition. There's a winner and a loser, and that can be disheartening. In theater it's not about winning or losing, it's about doing well," he explains.
In a show, the teamwork aspect is still there; everyone is working toward the common goal of putting on a performance. But the kids are given all the opportunity to succeed without the fear of losing, he says.
"It's a really positive environment. You feel like you belong here. Everybody has a place," says Morrissey. "If someone sits alone at lunch, in a minute like five people will be over there to sit with them."
The more outgoing kids will help make the shier kids feel welcome. The counselors create team games, inclusive exercises and confidence-building activities.
It's that support system that makes kids able to take risks while performing in front of their peers and an audience, and overcome the inevitable stage fright.
"I always think, before the show, that I'm gonna be fine. But then I go onstage and it feels like my heart's in my throat," says Manix. "But I just shove it back down."
"When I first went onstage and did it I was so proud of myself," says 10-year-old Jordan Klein, recalling one of her favorite roles. "Now I just love to go up there and show off."
Seaberg said there's something about performing onstage that's such a rush kids become hooked and come back to camp year after year.
"I caught the theater bug when I was 15 years old," he recalls.
"When you put performers on one end and an audience on the other end, there's a chemical connection," he adds. "There's electricity - this palpable feeling of something that wasn't there when it was an empty space. And that is the rush that people who perform theater are addicted to."
That's why people love live shows, he says. "That's why no matter how cool movies get, theater will never die."
KAOS camp is a win-win situation, he says.
"The audience wins when the kids do well, and when the kids do well, they feel good about themselves. And that's what we try to do."
Acting camp signups
To sign up for KAOS camp's remaining summer session or fall afterschool classes, contact Jeff Seaberg at 362-4053 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Camp runs 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday at Hap Magee Ranch Park and the Village Theatre. Cost is $475 for a two-week session.