What I Learned on my Summer Vacation, part 2: an ASCTC 2017 Retrospective

Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Summer never really sleeps at the ASC, especially not for me. Hi! I’m Lia Wallace. You may remember me from such ASCTC blog posts as Getting Ralph’d and What I Learned on my Summer Vacation: a 2016 ASCTC retrospective. Or you might know me as the ASC Theatre Camp Director, or the College Prep Programs Manager, or “the lady who knits while walking.” I’ll answer to any of those names, but the campers know me as Lia.

I’ve been thinking about them (the campers) a lot lately. When I wrote a similar blog post about ASCTC 2016, I ended it by saying, “I have a lot to learn — and that’s okay. I had fifty-nine amazing teachers this summer, I can’t wait to learn whatever the campers at ASCTC 2017 will undoubtedly teach me.”

Words cannot describe the accuracy of that statement. Which won’t, of course, stop me from trying.

Here are 5 of the most memorable lessons I learned from my sixty-six teachers, and I present them to you here with some assistance from the campers’ own words (provided anonymously in a post-camp survey,  or used with that camper’s permission).

1. Ask the campers what they want (and really listen to their answers).

A new model for the mid-session Showcase.

“I honestly don’t understand the point of showcase. If we didn’t have to worry about memorizing those extra lines and blocking, we could make our main show THAT MUCH better. It was a great experience, just an unnecessary one.”

The history of the mid-session Showcase performance has been wildly inconsistent. We’ve never been able to really nail down a format that serves the mission of camp — even though the mid-session Showcase is essential to the mission of camp. As one camper said:

“I think taking on the showcase is a crazy extra endeavor. It adds a crazy amount of stress and takes away time that could have been devoted to more lectures or text prep.”

To which I say: YES. And AMEN. That extra challenge of the added fourth show, which has more people (a cast of 30 is very different from a cast of 10), less time (two weeks is very different from three), and a totally different director (or two or three) creates a nearly repertory performance experience out of camp. That fourth show (which I emphasize again because three is not enough) requires focus, commitment, adaptability, collaboration, and patience at a whole new level, and is one of the chief reasons why our program is so much more than just a regular summer camp. As one camper observed:

“I know people didn’t like it, but it was important. Please don’t cut it.”

I’m not going to cut it (ever). But how do I make sure I’m balancing the needs of my campers with the goals of our program while also creating a cohesive piece of theatre that A) showcases more of our camper’s talents and B) challenges them to C) feel safe while tackling staging situations that frighten or intimidate them without D) overwhelming them with far too much work (one the one hand) or E) boring them to tears (on the other)? I can’t read minds. How am I supposed to figure out what they want and need?

Well… I could ask them.

See, I saw a trend in the 2016 campers’ post-camp survey responses to many of the questions (not just the ones about Showcase): in general, campers knew what they wanted to do. Or at least, they had ideas about what they wanted to try, if given the chance — and Showcase could be the perfect chance.

Camper reactions to hearing their casting for the first session Showcase.

So, when campers filled out their regular audition forms for ASCTC 2017, listing their previous roles and special talents and other normal audition form information, they also found themselves answering a bunch of strange and strangely specific questions, like:

  • Which moment/scene/sequence from a Shakespearean play (not included in the session’s plays) would you most want to perform?
  • Which Shakespearean character do you most want to play at some point in your life, and why? Is there a particular moment in that character’s play that you love? Or does the character have a certain aspect that draws you to them?
  • Name something you’d like to do onstage, but you’ve never been able to do because of nerves or fear.

The answers to those questions provided the raw material from which I built each Session’s showcase: two completely different shows I cobbled together using moments from throughout Shakespeare’s canon, drawing on the campers’ requests and taking into account casting for the main shows.

Now, to be clear, I didn’t just give everybody what they wanted. If I had, the half a dozen campers in the first session named Much Ado about Nothing’s strong-willed and sharp-tongued Beatrice as their “bucket list” role to play would all have been playing Beatrice. Six Beatrices is too many Beatrices.

Instead of casting six Beatrices, I carefully considered the reasons why the campers said they wanted to play her. Like Sally, who wanted to play Beatrice because, “She’s sarcastic, witty and I wish I could do comebacks to people I don’t get along with like Beatrice does.” Sally specifically wanted to do “the scene where Beatrice tells Benedict to kill Claudio, [because] it’s filled with so much emotion and it would interesting to play.” Sounded to me like Sally wanted to play a woman wearing her wit as armor while riding into a high-stakes battle of words against a worthy adversary in a scene where everything is on the line. Beatrice certainly fits that bill, but she’s not the only one. In fact, Shakespeare provides a multitude of options for exploring those sorts of things through that sort of character; casting Sally was just a matter of choosing the right one.

Now seems like a pertinent time to mention that I have three (yes, three) university degrees in Shakespeare, resulting in an exhaustive knowledge of the characters and scenes in all 38 plays included in the Shakespearean canon. Despite what my parents may believe, that knowledge comes in useful from time to time. Creating this new Showcase format was definitely one of those times.

Sally (center) as Lucius in TITUS ANDRONICUS. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

I cast Sally in a role she’d never heard of: Elizabeth Gray, a character from Shakespeare’s first history tetralogy. We meet her in Henry VI, Part 3 and Shakespeare continues her story in the sequel, Richard III.  Paired with a camper who wanted nothing in the world so much as to play the croockbacked spider Richard himself, Sally played Elizabeth in Act Four, Scene Four of Richard III, a crackling passage of stychomythic zingers with wordplay more treacherous than making a bet with a Sicilian when death is on the line.

“That is an experience I will never forget.” -Sally Tennant-Hertzerling

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Nametags and stage blacks were the only costumes for A LOVE STORY IN THREE ACTS.

I went through that process with each and every camper in both sessions. Using the raw material of the campers’ stated hopes and dreams as my base, I organized each Showcase around a central theme — “love” in Session 1 with A Love Story (In Three Acts) and “power” in Session 2 with Playing Politics — and worked with the campers in a collaborative, semi-devised, super-truncated rehearsal process. We performed each show in the early modern playing space at the Stuart Hall School on the second Saturday of each session, and invited friends, family and members of the Staunton community to  join us for the final performance and subsequent ice cream social.

Was it perfect? There’s no such thing. Did it serve the mission of camp? You bet it did. Will we do the exact same thing in ASCTC 2018? I don’t know. What I do know is that listening to the campers when they say what they want — really listening — is the only way to even begin to give them what they need. And in order to listen to their answers, I have to ask them the questions.

“I got to play my dream role and it was awesome. Keep listening to suggestions, I think that’s what made Showcase great this year, it felt more personal and made by the campers. I enjoyed the idea of connecting scenes by a specific theme.”

 

Session 2 campers working on music for PLAYING POLITICS.

I know something else, too: how freakin’ good it was for me to have scheduled time to work with the campers, because it turns out that if I don’t schedule time to work with the campers, I won’t be working with any campers, ever.

2. Schedule time to work with campers.

I love my job. I spend more time with budgets and spreadsheets and CRM software than I imagined I would, yes, but that comes with the territory of working in the real world at a real nonprofit arts organization. Everybody gets to wear many hats, and I like putting on the caps that continue to challenge me to learn and do things outside of my comfort zone — all of them. I still work with students year round. I mean, last week, Sarah Enloe and I went to CCCA to do our fifth(? sixth?) annual Christmas Carol workshop for their young residents. There was dancing. I wore a tutu and ended up covered in glitter.

Did I mention I love my job?

RDA Daniel Ellis doing an excellent imitation of the face he makes whenever I show up with a fire extinguisher.

Yet, I spend many of my days during camp doing not-camp stuff (which usually involves sitting in front of a computer). In a sense, that’s how it should be: ASCTC draws some fierce professional talent, which means every summer we gain an outstanding artistic and residential staff more than capable of running the day-to-day of camp with minimal input from me. When they discover a fire, they always let me know, and I always sprint right over — but by the time I get there, out of breath and wielding a fire extinguisher, the flames are long gone and, more often than not, a cadre of RDAs are looking at me funny while grooming a baby Phoenix (which, naturally, they bred from the leftover ashes — see photo, right). They’ll always inform me, but they don’t need me for every single thing.

I’m not mad about this, but I do find myself stewing with jealousy once camp is in session and everyone is making art and I’m chipping away at my email inbox.

Why do I do that to myself? When camp’s not in session (no, I do not disappear or hibernate between summers) I make sure I take the time to work with students. In the fall, I can build the camp registration process while leading workshops for the English Speaking Union regional competitors from both the Lexington and Charlottesville branches. I started a free drama club on the weekends, I train playhouse tour guides and teach students of all levels during the week, and I still manage to find time to attend departmental budget meetings when camp isn’t in session, so why on earth can’t I do the same when camp is in session?

Turns out that I can. I just have to make sure to make the time without taking all the time I have. Striking that balance is difficult, and I don’t have it down perfect yet, but I made great strides in the right direction last summer.

On a good day during ASCTC 2017, I got to teach a college credit course. On a great day, I got to teach a workshop (I still make the schedule, which means I will be introducing campers to audience contact in Shakespeare until I’m fired or dead) or do some text coaching. On the best days, I got to do one or both of those things and work on Showcase rehearsals.

Stepping out of the office into the sunshine of camp (no matter what the weather is really like) is mandatory. Why else are we doing all of this, anyway? I know I can’t be at camp all day every day (no matter how much I’d like to be) but from now on, I will be at camp for at least a moment during every day of ASCTC 2018.

Working with campers during the in-depth text workshop followups.
3. Speaking of making time…. Have a Vicky. And an Olivia. And maybe some interns.

After ASCTC 2016, I waxed thankful about the invaluable help I received from Camp Life Coordinators Tess Garrett and Adrienne Johnson, who really should receive any and all credit I happily take for keeping the campers fed, healthy, and safe during their time with us.

Tess officially passed the Camp Life torch to Adrienne in the middle of ASCTC 2016, and she shouldered it herself, valiantly and single-handedly, through both sessions (and an Extended Experience Week) of ASCTC 2017. Just like I shouldered the Camp Director bonfire all by myself, on my own two shoulders, with no help from anyone.

… is anybody buying this?

I didn’t think so.

The only thing better than having an Adrienne is having an Adrienne with an assistant. The only thing better than an Adrienne with an assistant is having my own assistant! Enter the admin and camp life assistant positions (which we called “Vicky” and “Olivia,” respectively, during their debut season at ASCTC 2017).

Olivia Pedigo (left) and Vicky Vail (right). Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Who helped Adrienne stuff welcome packets, make nametags and dorm room door signs, decorate the callboard, create and update and post the daily schedule, keep the headcount for every single meal in Hunt Dining Hall, sign campers in and out during free time, and go out to get stuff whenever we realized we needed something we didn’t have? That would be Olivia Pedigo.

Who was my assistant director for both Showcases, helped me choreograph the broadsword fight for 1 Henry IV, organized and tracked camper records and registrations and audition forms and health insurance info, supervised script prep and printing, and stayed up til 3AM helping me pit cherries to make pies for the Session 1 pre-orientation picnic because hello we were doing Titus that session and everyone knows that if you’re doing Titus then you can’t have a pre-orientation picnic without pies? That would be Vicky Vail.

Literally, Vicky fed us.

Who prepped the scripts, glossed the text, took blocking notes, wrote dramaturgical essays, pulled props and costumes, and even occasionally stepped up to step in to the shows when needed? That would be the Production Interns, another ASCTC 2017 staff addition. Ryan Wilson, Alex Kingsley, Chase O’Neill, and Olivia Pedigo (serving double duty as a Production Intern in Session 2, while Ryan worked on a production of Macbeth in Richmond) were the best inaugural crop of Production Interns a Camp Director could ask for. Thanks to their trailblazing, I know we’ll have more of the same in the summers to come.

4. Don’t decide (especially not a whim) to put all your informational eggs in one website basket and then crash it. Repeatedly. 

I decided camp needed a real, dedicated website. I set up a WordPress account, bought the domain asctheatrecamp.com and started building. WordPress makes it look incredibly easy, which is my only excuse for thinking that building and hosting a website is, in itself, incredibly easy. So when I got annoyed at a random, minor restriction of the WordPress platform, I thought “Forget WordPress, I’ll host the camp website ON MY OWN!”

American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp
Photo by Lindsey Walters.

What? It didn’t seem crazy at the time. What could possibly go wrong?

I won’t go into detail (because I still don’t really understand anything about building and hosting websites) but the long and short of it is: WEBSITES ARE HARD PEOPLE GO TO SCHOOL FOR THAT AND I GOT IN OVER MY HEAD.

The website problem snowballed into an email problem (any parents reading this are probably rolling their eyes afresh at receiving dozens of “Tuition Payment Reminder” emails even though they had already paid tuition and also camp had ended several weeks prior). The email problem snowballed into a database problem. I wasn’t in over my head anymore. I was buried alive.

The good news: I asked for help, and the people who went to school for these things dug me out, dusted me off, and set me straight so that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. I did my best to be upfront about the reasons behind the various annoyances and inconveniences I caused with my internet hubris and I promised to never, ever, ever jump off another building without tying on a safety harness because really, how far of a fall can it be?

5. The campers are always, always worth it.

The transition from childhood to adulthood, beginning with puberty around the age of 12 and ending after an explosion of frontal lobe development around the age of 21, is when who you were turns into who you will become. As such, it’s inherently a time of emotional instability. Or, to put it another way, it sucks.

ASCTC makes it suck slightly less.

How is this true? I’m not quite sure. But I know it is because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen it happen over and over again during my time at the ASC. Dozens, maybe hundreds of times.

For that, I will battle demons, devils, politicians, bosses, cab drivers, and the entire US Navy if I have to. Why, I can deal with self-doubt and smile through slip-ups, weather setbacks with patience and spend my nights awake and working. I’ll work harder than a CrossFit trainer. I’ll wait longer than Patience on a monument. I’ll reach further than any selfie stick, teach the oldest dog the newest tricks, change lives for the better for as long as I can, and set the murderous Machiavel to school. (Wait, what?)

Anyway: I’d do it all backwards and blindfolded if it meant life would suck less for just one camper. What wouldn’t I do for dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions? How could anything be worth more than that?

I promise to you, here and now, this solemn and most sacred vow: the day I stop believing that will be the day I leave this job. And I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.

ASCTC 2017 Session 2 campers, in all their glory. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Playing Politics – a Showcase of Power & Payback

Putting up three plays in three weeks is no easy feat, so adding a fourth production (featuring all 37 campers in the cast) is the sort of extra challenge we love to set before the brilliant, eager minds of the ASC Theatre Camp. 


We’re not as crazy as we sound; we cut each of the three final scripts down to a run time of 60 minutes. As might be expected, cutting a play to one hour often results in a variety of acting tracks, some that give students less time onstage or working one-on-one with their director. The fourth production is our creative remedy – we ask the campers about their Shakespearean dream roles and build the script based on their answers. The result is a showcase of scenes and soliloquies from throughout the canon, woven together with a theme: this session, we’re prying into puzzles of power, pride, prestige, purpose, and payback. In short, we’re Playing Politics.

The Showcase will be this Saturday, July 29 at 7:30 at Stuart Hall’s King Theatre. Admission is free and open to the public. Join us to see these young actors shine shine–and stay for an ice cream social after the ~hour long performance ends. Hope to see you there!

If you can’t make it, never fear! We will be livestreaming the performance on the ASCTC Facebook page — if you can’t be there personally, you can still be there electronically.

Making musical memories.

Today was all about the music — and let me just say right now that we have an amazingly varied and stunningly talented crop of campers this session. I mean, we always have a lot of talent in the room, but in my short tenure as Camp Director I have never seen so many instruments in the PEG dorm! These kids play everything – aside from the ubiquitous acoustic guitars (what’s summer camp without an acoustic guitar or seven?) and the usual handful of ukeleles, this session we also have five (yes, FIVE) violins, a saxophone, a trombone, a clarinet, a flute, several pianists (though none of them are in possession of the majestic kitty keyboard Elias Cross brought with him last session — each key “meows” its note when played), some maracas, I think I saw a tambourine at some point, panpipes and several different recorders. Oh, and CAROLINE RAYMOND with her upright bass:

You can bet your bottom buck that we’ll be making use of all of these musical talents in each of the shows as well as in our mid-session Showcase (which is on Saturday, July 30). Today we started working on an all-camp song, which will close the Showcase performance and make a reappearance to open the Final Performance Festival on Sunday, August 6. We’ve got a whole strings section, not to mention a clarinet-flute-saxophone-trombone quartet. It’s gonna be magic!

In addition to rehearsing music for the Showcase, campers had a lot of one-on-one time with their heroes today: they split into casts for Voice class with Alli Glenzer, which meant each camper was able to get more individual attention in their vocal work, and then we all joined back together for a music workshop with another ASC veteran actor (and extraordinary musician) Chris Johnston.

 

Rehearse your parts!

Pestle rehearsal shenanigans

King Lear exploring the Blackfriars Playhouse

 

Getting started on Showcase!

This session, the story is called “Playing Politics” — campers got their scripts and their casting a few days earlier than their Session 1 counterparts (because we read the camper surveys and fix what we’re able to fix whenever we can!). I’m super excited to dive into this story with this group of nutter butters. We’re gonna have so much fun!

“Walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.” Our first day off!

The first few days of camp are quite the whirlwind. You’re in a new place, surrounded by new people, and oh how about you do an audition and a 3-hour voice class and read throughs and first rehearsals and text prep and showcase casting and, well, general sensory overload. Wednesday gave us all a chance to relax, reset, and take stock of all that’s happened thus far — and get ready to dive headlong into the experience of camp.

The staff was likewise glad to have a chance to catch our collective breaths…

Bonus video of one our super crazy talented campers noodling around on the Split Banana Piano:

“You met with things dying, I with things new born.”

Auditions, casting, and read-throughs… oh my! The start of the session sure is busy busy busy. Peek behind the scenes of a day at camp with these pictures (and a video montage!) from auditions, the final show cast lists, and photos from tonight’s read-thrus.

While I still mourn the end of Session 1, the Session 2 campers capital-B BROUGHT IT during auditions this morning. I keep forgetting talent is not a finite quality — just because the Session 1 campers had it in spades doesn’t mean anybody in Session 2 got the short end of the talent stick. I mean… take a look:

 

After auditions it’s the lunchtime party, and after the party is the PEG dorm lobby, and round about 5 we gotta leave the lobby and take ourselves to Hunt to post some cast lists.

After posting those cast lists, Vicky and I stayed hard at work creating the Showcase script and getting it cast. Several campers from Session 1 said they wished they’d gotten their Showcase scripts earlier (instead of on our first official rehearsal, which is this Thursday) and unlike some of their other complaints, that’s one I can actually do something about. Hopefully, we’ll be handing out roles by dinnertime tomorrow, and then we’ll be off to the races!

While we were doing that, the campers had their first meeting with their cast, Director, RDA, and Production Intern in order to read through the plays they’ll spend the next three weeks inhabiting. Check it out:

I’m sure the Pestle group was having too much fun to send me any pictures. Well – that’s all for now! See you tomorrow!

What I Learned on my Summer Vacation: a 2016 ASCTC retrospective from Camp Director Lia Wallace

After the dreaded return to school, were you ever required to distill the frenetic fecundity of your summer through the barren medium of the personal essay, struggling to capture in writing that which demands physicality, imagination, and experiential knowledge?

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Hi, I’m Lia Wallace. You may remember me from such ASC positions as “education artist,” “administrative financial assistant,” and “why is that intern still here?”. I’m speaking to you today from my newly acquired permanent position of College Prep Programs Manager, and I’m here to give you a retrospective on the 2016 sessions of the ASC Theatre Camp (my first as Camp Director) — or, as I like to call it: Lia Attempts to Adult, Summer Edition. What follows are things I learned, things I learned never to do again, some notable experiences, and ideas for next summer.

1. Adulthood has rules and those rules are terrifying.

The amount of existential angst over choosing a vocation is such a privileged conundrum. When I worked as a waitress, I never thought about “maximizing my professional enjoyment” or “cultivating constructive connections with colleagues.” The fact that work sucked was a given that I automatically accepted. Being in school forever was always supposed to pay off with an occupationI actually enjoyed in the field of my studies (I have three degrees in Shakespeare!) as opposed to ajob I tolerated in the field of “it pays the rent.” I had been interning at the ASC for nearly five years when I was hired full time as the College Prep Programs Manager (aka Camp Director, for the purposes of this blog post) and yet I still didn’t realize that working full time for the ASC meant not working in a restaurant at all. In fact, working full time for the ASC put me firmly into the terrifyingly Real World of Adulthood.

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The Real World of Adulthood has strict rules it never explains. What are Adults supposed to wear, and when? How do Adults use Facebook? As an Adult, why is it no longer acceptable to eat ice cream for every meal? My biggest Adult fear was adjusting to a society that runs on a 9-5 schedule. I do not run on a 9-5 schedule, and forcing myself to do so is really hard — and, it turns out, not very good for me. See, I’m a late chronotype. My natural circadian rhythm causes my energy levels to rise and fall a few hours later than the “average” cycle. If left to my druthers, my job hours would be 11am – 8pm (with “lunch” somewhere around 3).

(Side note: I am not lazy – I work as hard or harder than you do. I just do it at a different time.Chronotype discrimination is real! [Editor’s Note: You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie.])

This is probably why I was an excellent waitress and a successful graduate student. It also makes me a terrible receptionist, an unsuccessful fisher, an effective night watchman, and a really good summer camp director. Because guess who else refuses to live within the 9-5 boundaries of civilized society? Teenagers. Especially the sorts of teenagers that elect to attend a three-week residential Shakespeare theatre camp.

2. Have an Adrienne. And a Tess, if possible. Actually, a whole staff is pretty great.

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Of course, the campers didn’t universally like to live within my chronotypical boundaries, either. While I was welcome to create lesson plans or write blog updates at 2am if my heart so desired, somebody still needed to be up at 7 with the campers who liked to go running. Somebody had to set the kitchen up and make breakfast (during the first session, when the staff provided all of the food ourselves) or unlock the third-floor door to the dining hall (during the second session, when we had all resoundly learned our lesson) before 9, by which time hungry campers would usually mutiny. Running camp is a manifestly 24-hour-a-day job. I can go without sleep for a while but not forever, so that means running camp can never be a job for one person. Enter Adrienne, my Camp Life Coordinator.

At this point, I should differentiate between Adrienne and the rest of my staff. I hired professional directors to helm each show. I also hired a bevy of counselors dedicated to assisting: they served as both ADs (assistant directors) and very hands-on RAs (resident assistants). I had an administrative intern with a staggering amount of patience regarding my inability to ask productively for help. I don’t mean to minimize their efforts; they are all hardworking, competent, delightful human beings and every one of them did excellent work this summer — but nobody ever pretended the position existed without them. I feel that in the context of a theatre summer camp, residential and artistic staff in the form of directors and counselors should be a given. After all, we have dozens of teenagers per session. I am not going to personally look after all of them 24/7, because that is crazy. And though I am loathe to give up any modicum of artistic control, I still never expected to personally and simultaneously direct the 2-4 full productions that we mount each session. I had a lot of help in those areas, and while I am incredibly thankful for that help, I also expected to have it.

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You know what I didn’t expect? Everything else. Do you know how unbelievably difficult and frustrating it is to compile all the information for each session’s final performance program (including headshots of every camper, many of whom are apparently allergic to standing still), format that document and get it printed, correctly and on time, without handing over my first born child? I didn’t, either. I also didn’t expect the number of sign-up sheets we would use throughout the summer, or the fact that those don’t just appear magically when we need them. I didn’t expect our first session audition space to be suddenly unavailable due to delayed construction. I didn’t expect the carefully built schedule to need constant tweaking. I didn’t expect the sheer amount of stuff we’d need and the frequent trips to the store that resulted almost daily. I definitely didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.

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Adrienne compiled, corrected, and produced the programs. She made sign up sheets and schedules. She did CostCo runs, washed mountains of dishes, coordinated all the schedule changes (as well as the staff’s time off), finished the construction on the audition space, and converted all the infidels. And she did it while I slept, unaware of any problems. It didn’t hurt that she’s an early chronotype (cheerfully ready to go at 5:30 AM – but woe to any who try to keep her up past 9:30 at night), and it hurt even less that she learned the ropes of Camp Life Coordination hands-on from her predecessor Tess Garrett, who helped us with Session 1 before entrusting us to do Session 2 on our own. If any aspect of my first summer as Camp Director can be called a success, the credit is likely due to Tess and Adrienne. I frequently find myself receiving praise that should be theirs, and though I will cheerfully accept it (because who doesn’t love to be praised?), I am always aware that I owe everything to their dedicated, consistent, and tireless work behind the scenes.

3. Don’t attempt to solve problems you don’t understand; or, never ever force teenagers to do a staged reading of Henry VIII. Especially not twice.

2016 marks 19 summers of the ASC Theatre Camp (including YCTC sessions — the camp’s previous moniker was “Young Company Theatre Camp”) and the Education team had fomented big plans for our almost-vicennial. The idea cooked up in 2015 was that in 2016, camp would add a two-week college session in May, before the usual three-week sessions intended for high schoolers. These college campers would audition and be cast ahead of time in order to arrive off-book for a Renaissance-style rehearsal experience culminating in a performance of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s collaborative play King Henry VIII. This college session production, along with the high school session productions of Henry VI, Part 2 and King John, would unlock a significant achievement in the world of Shakespearean theatre: it would complete the canon. That means that in the 19 summers of its existence, the ASC Theatre Camp has managed to produce at least one performance of every single play (reasonably) attributed to Shakespeare. (Get out of here, Sir Thomas More, nobody invited you. You too, Arden of Faversham. And take Edward III with you!) How exciting! In anticipation of the milestone, all of the marketing materials for ASCTC 2016 proudly trumpeted this achievement by inviting potential campers to come “complete the canon at camp!”

liablog6This is all well and good, but the idea remained just that: an idea. When I began part-time work in the position in February, the only tangible developments toward this canon-completing college session were an empty Applications folder and those ambitious flyers. Cutting the college session was a difficult decision with many factors behind it — too many for me to explore now — but it had to happen. It would never have been a big deal if one little thing hadn’t needled me endlessly: without the college session, we had no camp production if Henry VIII. Without a camp production of Henry VIII, camp would not complete the canon (to my particular standards) in the summer of 2016. Not a big deal in itself — if we hadn’t put it all over our marketing material, essentially turning us into big fat canon-uncompleting liars.

Solution! I thought. Camp always features a mid-session performance of some sort, usually a showcase of scenes with elements of music, dance, and combat, though the format had never been definitively set. How about we do a staged reading of Henry VIII? It can have all the benefits of a full (hour-long) production with a professional director without any additional line memorization! I hired two more directors, crossed “canon completion?” off my list, and promptly moved on to the next task. I also congratulated myself on being so clever.

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I didn’t think about how hard it would be for campers to “showcase” any sort of talent while holding scripts in hand. I didn’t think about how Henry VIII, with its baffling plot, unusual character development, and relentlessly plodding grandiose speeches, might be ill-suited to the staged reading medium. I definitely didn’t think about the logistics of putting all of the campers into one play — in their main shows, the cast size is between 10-13 — with only a director, no assistants or stage managers, and with every camper required to attend all 20 hours of rehearsal. It was hard enough for the twenty-one campers in session 1, and it only got harder for the thirty-eight of them in session 2.

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Credit where credit is due: directors Merlyn Sell and Patrick Harris each did an excellent job with the impossible task I gave them. Some of the campers enjoyed the experience, and in many ways, we allbenefited from the experience. But in the terms of the goals we want this mid-session show to accomplish, I failed miserably — though I definitely learned a valuable lesson. Let’s just say that ASCTC 2017 will look mighty different in this regard.

4. I am definitely in the right job.

Running camp was hard.

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Frustrations and anxiety and fear were ever-present: the fear of failure, the anxiety of ineptitude, the frustration of incompetence.

I messed up a bit in some ways and messed up a lot in others. I never got enough sleep. I often felt like I was failing my staff, failing my campers, and failing their parents. Many times throughout the summer I wondered whether the reward of succeeding at my Real World job and legitimizing my Adulthood status would be worth the day-to-day struggles of being responsible for the world of camp. It’s a world that doesn’t make much sense, filled with impressive and impressionable young artists who look to you for guidance while their concerned parents question everything you do. Camp doesn’t care that you haven’t slept in 32 hours — if you turn your back on those impressive and impressionable young artists, you’ll turn back around to find them 40 feet up in a tree. With sleep deprivation, impostor syndrome, and no formal job training (outside of the five years of interning and three degrees in Shakespeare), I often felt as though I was being held hostage in the world of my own creation by the drunken toddlers I had invited to populate it.

Fortunately, as it turns out, that is exactly the kind of world in which I thrive. For all their tree-climbing and H8-hating, every single one of the fifty-nine campers I worked with this summer gave me countless reminders of why it is I love what I do with such a suffering, with such a deadly life, that in existing without it I would find no sense. I would not understand it. The campers come to Staunton to learn what I love to teach. They have no settled judgments, no points to prove, no professional agendas they need to forward. They come to explore things I know in a way I’ve forgotten, and it’s a joy and a privilege to explore with them.

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They asked tough questions. They tried new things boldly and with full spirit — or, sometimes, with only a small amount of coaxing. Sometimes they would burst into song as a group, often while following me through the streets of Staunton to wherever the next activity would be taking place, suddenly giving me my own theme song (usually “Bohemian Rhapsody”). They told me how camp changed them for the better, how they’ll never forget it, how they can’t wait to come back — and they thank me for that, as if their journey of self-discovery is somehow my doing. They are worth every sleepless night spent squinting at convoluted budget spreadsheets and questioning my self worth as a human being due to my inability to correctly calculate credit card fees.

I love what I do. Had frenetically enthusiastic, late-chronotype, generally bewildered Young Lia known that the Real World included jobs like running the ASC Theatre Camp, I think she would have been a lot less trepidatious about stepping into that Real World. I have a lot to learn — and that’s okay. I had fifty-nine amazing teachers this summer, and I can’t wait to learn whatever the campers at ASCTC 2017 will undoubtedly teach me.

–Lia Wallace
ASC College Prep Programs Manager