York's theaters teach kids life skills at camps

Alyssa Jackson
  • Both local theaters host several weeklong summer camps for young kids.
  • The programs instill valuable life skills, such as public speaking and creative thinking.
  • Both theaters have several more weeks available for children to sign up for a theater camp.

When you send a child to a theater camp, it might not even occur to you that they're learning more than how to act, memorize lines and put on a play. They're also learning how to speak publicly, be more outgoing and think creatively about the world they're growing up in.

These are life skills that the two theaters in York, DreamWrights Center for Community Arts and the Belmont Theatre — formerly known as the York Little Theatre — hope to leave with the kids who participate in their weeklong summer camps. Both theaters have camps that are a different theme each week. Kids can participate every single week or for just one week out of the summer.

DreamWrights: DreamWrights Center for Community Arts has a theater camp that lasts for eight weeks for kids between 3 and 18 years old. The camps have a different theme each week, with three Disney weeks throughout the summer. Other weeks focus on things like fairy tales, mini musicals and Broadway.

Abby Shank, 8, left, and Megan McCabe, 10, rehearse for a showcase performance for their parents during the summer camp at the Belmont Theatre, Thursday, July 14, 2016.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Some weeks don't have camps for 3- to 4-year-olds, executive director Ann Davis said, but the three Disney weeks do allow children from that age group to participate.

DreamWrights held one of the Disney weeks last week and presented a showcase of "Cinderella" for parents and the community. The Disney weeks are the only camps that sell tickets and allow community members to attend the showcase, Davis said. The tickets are $8. On July 29, the kids will put on an "Aladdin" musical, and on Aug. 5, kids will put on a "101 Dalmatians" musical.

During these camps, Davis said that kids learn skills they can carry with them outside of the theater camps.

"They learn a sense of community, working together and grow their self-esteem," Davis said. "They all have gifts to give."

Davis said that a range of teaching artists from the community work with the children on these skills as well as theater skills. For example, local artist Karen Paust taught a sculpture workshop one week, and local poet Christine Lincoln led a poetry workshop for the kids another week.

Rose Walsh Gurklis, 11, center, points during a rehearsal for a showcase performance for their parents during the one-week Summer Theatre Camp at the Belmont Theatre, Thursday, July 14, 2016.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Teen counselors who are part of a mentoring program for DreamWrights help with the camps on a volunteer basis.

It does cost money to participate in each weeklong camp, but Davis said scholarships can be applied for. She said that this year DreamWrights has given out 26 scholarships to campers, and work scholarships also are available for those interested. A full-day, weeklong camp is $235, while a half-day camp is $120.

Kids are still able to register for the weeklong camps that haven't been filled by going to www.dreamwrights.org or by calling (717) 848-8623.

Belmont Theatre: Six weeks of theater camp are offered at the Belmont Theatre, which was formerly known as the York Little Theatre but recently underwent a name change. The camp is offered for ages 5 to 12 years old, and show themes range from "Willy Wonka," which the kids performed at their showcase on Friday, to fairies, dragons and other fantastic creatures and "The Wizard of Oz" in coming weeks.

Many of the teachers for the camp, such as Stephanie Walsh, who teaches the 5- to 7-year-olds, are actors who have been in plays at the Belmont. Walsh said the kids build a lot of life skills during their week at camp, and their confidence blooms as well.

"I have parents come up and tell me that their kid would never get up and talk in front of people, but now they're more outgoing and confident," Walsh said.

Lyn Bergdoll, the executive director at Belmont Theatre, said the showcases and practices are done to live music played on a piano rather than a CD, so that they can have more freedom when practicing. The piano player, Jaquie Sutton, said she also helps teach the kids breathing exercises when singing, musical terms and other good habits so the kids can continue these practices outside of the camp in school choirs or bands.

Instructor Stephanie Walsh leads children as they rehearse for a showcase performance for their parents during summer camp at the Belmont Theatre, Thursday, July 14, 2016.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Rene Staub, the director of the camp and the artistic director at the theater, said he has the teachers include good audition practices, which in turn encourages some kids to audition for plays at the theater. For example, Belmont Theatre is currently holding auditions for "School of Rock," in which the entire cast needs to be under the age of 18. Staub said several children from the camp have auditioned for the play.

"It's very important to instill these skills so it's not just them learning songs from 'Willy Wonka' but skills that they use throughout their lives," Staub said. "We really care about the kids learning skills they can use throughout their life."

Kids are still able to register for the weeklong camps that run through Aug. 5 by visiting www.ylt.org. Each camp costs $180.