Jessie Edgar, a former Acting Camp camper, is now a counselor. This is her first column as a Cape Cod Wave intern.
While most kids on the Cape spend their summer days at the beach, one group of kids get to be movie stars, scuba divers, turtles, gorilla doctors, detectives and anything else they can get their imaginations to whip up.
With the Woods Hole Community Hall as home base, the anomaly known as Acting Camp takes place for four weeks every summer.
“Outside the Box” is the camp’s motto. Whether it is dancing like a crazy person, making silly faces, or spinning in circles, the campers are safe to be whoever they wish to be when Mr. Switzer calls, “Action!”
For the duration of the camp, Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon, a lucky group of kids get to exercise their imaginations with Woods Hole as the backdrop.
Brian Switzer is a teacher at Morse Pond School in Falmouth from September to June. But during the summer he reigns over the 70 kids at Acting Camp. Calm, cool and creative, Mr. Switzer is known far and wide as the favorite of all his students and campers.
“I started Acting Camp because I wanted to design a summer program that focused on creativity and theater. I had taught theater in school but wanted to take it to the next level. Acting Camp actually began in 1988. I did it for a bunch of years and then took a break when my kids were young and I was taking care of them during the summer while their mom worked. I restarted the camp about 10 years ago and have run it since,” Switzer said.
On the first day of camp, townies and summer kids walk, bike and are driven from all around Falmouth to the Community Hall.
The youngest are entering fifth grade and the oldest are about to enter high school. These experienced campers are known as counselors in training (CITs) and have a few special privileges.
When the kids walk up the steps to the hall, the returning campers run to reacquaint themselves with old friends. The new campers look anxious, but quickly find camaraderie with other newbies.
To help spark these relationships, as well as to help campers cross the street and to maintain general order while Mr. Switzer is tied up talking to parents, the 10 counselors take charge.
Selected from old CITs, the counselors are there to lead, but also to be a friend to all campers. Ranging from a girl whose imagination takes her to fairy land to the boss’s son who enjoys starting crazy dance parties, the counselors all have their own style in inspiring imagination and friendship with the younger kids.
When all the campers are in the hall, Mr. Switzer takes attendance and then begins warm-ups. These include head rolls, sit ups, loud yelling, tongue twisters and short improv games.
Sometimes the warm-up also includes prancing around like a pony, walking through an imaginary pool of caramel, or running through a pretend hailstorm. It all depends on what enters Mr. Switzer’s head before he calls out directions.
After warm-up, the campers are split up into ten groups–about six or seven for each counselor–for improv games.
Mr. Switzer gives each group the instructions and they have an average of 10 minutes to plan out the skit. There are commercials that sell massaging backpacks, using smaller kids as the backpacks. There are scenes of slow motion fighting between fish and scuba divers. There are skits about animals, astronauts, unsuspecting teachers, gangs of giraffes, but most of all there is laughter.
Amid the improv skits, there is order to the camp. Each week has a special purpose. The first week is introductory, but this year the camp filmed a music video to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. For the video, the 10 groups danced around all over Woods Hole.
The filming attracted a lot of attention.Locals knew that it was just the crazy Acting Camp kids at it again. Tourists weren’t sure what was going on.
The second week of camp, the 10 groups of campers dramatize children’s books to be performed for young kids at the Woods Hole Library. Recent dramatizations have included: “If You Give a Seagull a French Fry” (a take off on “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”), “Are You My Mother?,” and “Too Much Noise.”
The third week, new groups form and create silent films to be made around Woods Hole.
The campers bring in costumes and editing is done with great skill by Mr. Switzer.
However, this year due to unfortunate weather circumstances, (ie. rain) Mr. Switzer set up a green screen in the Community Hall. A green screen allows for any image to be projected behind the actors, so the silent films were not just confined to the streets of Woods Hole, but were transported to the jungle, a castle, and to candyland. Imaginations ran wild.
The fourth week, home base shifts a bit to the right; over to the old firehouse right next door, for music videos.
There are literal transcriptions such as The Boys are Back from High School Musical with girls dressed up as boys, and then there are more abstract presentations like, for example, zombies dancing to Stand By Me.
The last day of camp is filled with goodbyes and a talent show that always features a counselor skit.
No discussion of Acting Camp is complete without an explanation of snack time. For snack time on Thursdays, the 70 campers raid Candy Go Nuts, the ice cream and candy store down the street from the Community Hall.
But in going to the candy store, a camp tradition has developed. Campers must bow down before they enter the store.
Acting Camp is fun and quirky, but Mr. Switzer explains it is so much more.
He said his main goal is for the kids to have fun, but in doing so, they learn how to overcome shyness.
“What I love most about Acting Camp are the kids and the enjoyment they get out of it. They are so creative and independent when given the opportunity,” he said.
The campers learn to work well with others, to think quickly, and they get some acting tips along the way.
As much as the young campers get out of the camp, counselors have just as much fun.
Mikey Cory, a counselor-in-training who has been a regular at acting camp for years said, “I love acting camp because we’re like a family. Everyone cares for each other like brother and sister. Nobody’s afraid to be who they are. We’re always laughing and hugging.”
Lily Kane-Myette, a first year counselor said,“I love Acting Camp because it provides kids with an environment where they can be themselves, which is so important at an age where you feel so self conscious in your body. Acting camp really allows for the campers to realize it’s okay to be who you are without forcing them out of their box.”
As for me, Acting Camp is the highlight of my summer, and I can’t wait until next year when Mr. Switzer can again yell – “Action!”