The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 7, 2012

GVT Summer Camp leaves good memories

LEWISBURG — For many, the memory of summer camp conjures up images of nature hikes, swimming in a lake and toasting marshmallows around a firepit in the woods. But for 52 youngsters, memories of this summer’s camp experience will revolve around playwriting, painting scenery and learning lines and lyrics for a season-ending performance.

Attendees at Greenbrier Valley Theatre’s two-week Summer Theatre Camp, which just concluded last week, enjoyed many of the typical campers’ pursuits — arts and crafts, singing and storytelling — along with such theater-specific activities as improvisation, stage combat and creative dramatics.

“We want to enlighten our students about the role of theater and its importance to society, but we’re not trying to create an army of actors,” GVT education director Courtney Susman said on the camp’s final instructional day.

“We want every student to walk away with self-confidence, team-building skills and public speaking skills — skills they can use in everyday life,” she added. “Our goal is not only to teach them about theater, but to help them gain abilities they will use throughout their lives, no matter what their occupations are.”

Susman noted the camp is divided into two age groups — one for students ages 5 through 8 and the other for those 9 through 14 years old. The younger campers attend morning sessions, while the older group spends the entire day at camp.

Every camp day begins with physical and vocal warm-ups, Susman said. Other activities include classes and exercises in playwriting, music and movement, arts and crafts and acting improvisation.

To reinforce the lessons taught by GVT’s professional staff, the students are shown a 15-minute excerpt of a Broadway performance each day.

“Lesson plans are so unique to our staff,” Susman said, pointing to the painting skills and fabric design talent offered by GVT staffers who serve as camp instructors.

“Everyone is involved,” she said.

“We adjust the lesson plan for each age group,” she explained, noting a “Sunday showcase,” during which all the campers perform for friends and family, closes out the camp.

Six-year-old Charlie Cole was one of the children looking forward to performing in the showcase this year, his second in summer camp.

Acting, Charlie confided, is his favorite camp activity.

Asked if he is a good actor, he considered for a moment, then softly responded, “Yes.”

The home-schooled boy from Covington, Va., also pointed to “Gibberish Day” as one of the highlights of camp. “We make up our own language,” he explained.

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While the focus of the camp experience is on life skills more than professional theater training, spending two weeks at GVT’s Summer Theatre Camp can provide a extra boost for youth with theatrical aspirations.

“We have several success stories of former summer campers continuing in the theater,” Susman said. “It speaks highly to this theater that those students have been able to use the camp experience as a kind of springboard.”

Speaking from experience as a former camper, Susman said, “We’re set up with references, as well as skills learned at the camp. I know it helped me greatly.”

She noted, “As a former GVT camper, it’s nice to have that insight into what (current students) are going through as they complete the program.”

The last instructional day of theater camp this year was somewhat bittersweet for Neely Seams, who at age 14 was completing her last stint as a camper.

“This is my ninth year at the camp; I’m the oldest camper here,” Neely said. “A lot changed (this year) since I’m the oldest. It’s like I’m setting an example for the younger kids.”

As one of the campers with professional theater aspirations, Neely said she knows she will pursue her craft in school, although the rising Greenbrier East High School freshman also enjoys science and English classes.

She said the skills she has learned at summer camp come in handy when dealing with schoolwork and life in general.

“It’s helped me memorize things for school,” Neely noted, adding, “And I used to be really shy, but I’m a lot more outgoing now.”

She said, most of all, camp is fun. “You make your own scripts, make masks, make friends.”

For information about Greenbrier Valley Theatre’s educational programs, visit www.gvtheatre.org or call Susman at 304-645-3838, ext. 8.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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