Three Weeks, Three Shows

The kids’ camps are over—musical drama and tinkering and band and Girl Scout sleep-away and gymnastics and drama twice more. School starts in two weeks and in the meanwhile I’ll be home with both kids. I’ll be working and they’ll be finishing up their summer homework and going to the pediatrician and the dentist and arguing with each other and maybe we’ll think of something fun to do, too.

Camp season went out with a bang. The past three Fridays we’ve had performances to attend. These are always fun and this year was no exception.

Everyone Flips: Gymnastics Camp

June attended gymnastics camp at the University of Maryland the last week in July. It was her first time at this camp (though she takes Saturday classes there on and off).

Almost every summer I write a blog post complaining about schlepping kids to and from day camp on public transportation and how time-consuming and chaotic it feels with different pickup times and places every week. If I wrote that post it would be about this week, as College Park is the furthest from our house of any of her day camps and it required me to be in transit for two and half hours or more most afternoons. But I don’t think I will write that post. It was kind of a pain, made worse by the fact that it was miserably hot and humid that week, but up until the week June was at gymnastics camp, Noah handled almost all of June’s camp pick-ups for me, and he even got her from gymnastics camp one day, so I think we’ve aged out of that particular complaint. Not to mention the fact that in two or three years June will probably be getting herself home from most of her day camps, so the light at the end of this parenting tunnel is getting pretty bright.

We learned about gymnastics camp from a girl at June’s school bus stop who goes every year, sometimes multiple weeks. “It’s a great camp,” she told us. “You go swimming every day and on the last day there’s ice cream.” It’s true they did swim at the University pool four afternoons and had an ice cream party on the last day. There were also spirit days—like Maryland colors day, pajama day, or Wacky Wednesday. But, being a gymnastics camp, there was gymnastics, too. The kids in her age group (eight to sixteen) took a test and were divided up by skill level on the first day. June was in the most basic group but she didn’t mind. She was on the young end of the age range and hasn’t taken gymnastics for years like many of the kids. She was pleased that her best score was for cartwheels because she loves those.

June said she enjoyed using all the equipment and having more time to go into skills in depth than in her Saturday morning class. She came home so worn out most days that she’d slump against me on the bus and one day she nearly fell asleep.

On Friday, we all arrived at camp at three o’ clock to see what she’d learned, or rather what she and maybe one hundred and fifty other kids had learned. It was a huge camp. The younger age group (five to seven) went first, performing on the parallel bars and tumbling. Next the older kids did first front handsprings and then cartwheels across the mat simultaneously in short parallel lines. I’d never seen June do a handspring. She did a nice job. (I’ve seen a lot of them since then, plus one-handed cartwheels.) Then the more advanced gymnasts within this group did multiple back handsprings and other fancy tumbling.

Next the whole older group convened to do flips on two trampolines. The camp director explained that by the end of the week, “everyone flips,” no matter what his or her starting level of experience. And almost everyone, including June, successfully flipped. Spotters stood on either side of each kid and lightly supported their lower backs as they spun through the air. Most kids did just one front flip, but some did back flips or multiple flips.

After the flips, it was time for human pyramids. Both the younger and older groups did three-person pyramids in various poses. June’s group was near the back so it was hard to see, or rather, the people under her were hard to see. I could usually see her, as she was on the top. Then the older kids did one big pyramid, or actually it was more like a crenellated castle wall, a long line two kids high with an occasional third kid interspersed along the top.

Finally, all the kids were invited to take their parents to whatever equipment they wanted so they could demonstrate their skills. June flipped over the lower of the uneven bars, did cartwheels across a soft balance beam laid directly on the floor—often keeping on the beam the whole time—and jumped on the trampoline, landing on her bottom or knees and twisting around the in the air. When she was finished, we left the gym, headed for a pizza dinner, the weekend, and another week.

Drama Camp 1: Playmakers

A week after the gymnastics exhibition, June had another performance. She’d been attending drama camp at Round House, where we’ve been sending both kids to summer and spring break camps since Noah was in kindergarten. As a result, some of the counselors remember June as the baby I used to bring with me to pick-ups. (And now, as mentioned, Noah can pick her up from camp himself and did one day.) Also, now that she’s a rising fourth grader she’s in the middle age group (Playmakers) and camp met in a different building in Silver Spring. The program was also more focused on the final sharing than it is for the youngest group, although it’s still more process-based and less polished than June’s musical drama camp. Playmaker camps run most of the summer with different themes and technical focuses each week. June’s week was Mysteries and sound design.

The kids wrote the fifteen-minute play themselves over the course of the week. The night before the performance June gave me a plot summary while I was making spinach-quinoa fritters for dinner. I was trying to form the patties and keep an eye on the ones already sizzling in the skillet so I wasn’t paying perfect attention. While we watched the skit I was wishing I had because it was a bit confusing.

It seemed to be about an evil school photographer who made children disappear by taking their pictures with a magic camera. The parents are looking for them and their search takes them to a haunted house full of spooky sound effects where they find clues. Somehow they end up driving a car made of dumplings (this is where I really got lost) until they decide to eat it instead. In the end the detective who has been allegedly helping them is unmasked as the villainous photographer and they get their kids back.

The kids picked music to play in different scenes and shook a sheet of thin metal to make thunder and used other objects to make noise. They were clearly having fun and that was nice to see.

One of June’s old preschool classmates was at camp with her. When I asked her if she remembered him she thought about it for a long time and said, “sort of.” She probably hasn’t seen him since they were five so I wasn’t surprised her memory of him was foggy, but I always enjoy seeing the friends from her little kid days grown up into bigger kids.

Beth took the kids camping that weekend and they left right after the performance. June got use the fire starting skills she learned at tinkering camp and they waded in a lake and picked raspberries. I stayed in Silver Spring, got dinner, watched a movie (The Gift) and had ice cream before catching a bus home. I haven’t seen a horror movie or thriller in a theater in ages and I’d forgotten how different the audiences are than audiences at the dramas Beth and I usually see when we make it to the movies—more participatory and louder basically. It was nice to do something just for myself. I felt like I needed it.

Drama Camp 2: Dramatic Exploration

After that June’s camps were over, but Noah had one left. He was in the oldest group at Round House (rising seventh to twelfth graders), which meets at their theater in Bethesda. His week was called Dramatic Explorations and they were practicing scenes from different dramatic genres and using different performance styles. Other than Tuesday, when he was Mecurtio in Romeo and Juliet and they worked on stage combat skills, he was close-lipped about what they were doing, but he seemed happy enough.

Meanwhile, June was home with me. On Tuesday I took her to see Sponge Bob: Sponge Out of Water because it was the last week of $1 movies and then we got veggie burgers, fries, onion rings, and custard at Burgerfi afterward. Then she had three play dates in two days on Wednesday and Thursday, which allowed me to get some work done.

When we arrived at Round House Theatre at five on Friday, the set from Oliver was onstage because that’s what’s currently playing. (The older daughter of the director of June’s Frozen camp plays an orphan in that production—she’s been in camp with June for several years so June was excited to see her headshot on the wall of the lobby.) I wondered if they’d incorporate the set. I thought the staircase would work nicely for the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

The camp director explained that they had been working on scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Tartuffe, and four contemporary plays over the course of the week. Everyone worked in every genre, although they would only perform in one or two scenes each at the sharing (as they call it).

They began with Romeo and Juliet. They did several scenes, switching actors for each scene. They did, in fact, did use the staircase in the balcony scene, although it was a comic version with a second set of actors providing rather loose modern language translations of each speech. June loved this scene, especially when Juliet, trying to get Romeo to leave so he won’t be discovered, tells him she’ll see him later but she needs to watch Netflix right now. In another scene, when the nurse tells Juliet that Romeo has killed Tybalt, the daughter of June’s second-grade Spanish teacher (and an elementary and middle school classmate of Noah’s) did a really excellent job playing the anguished nurse delivering the news.

A scene from Tartuffe was next, also well acted, and June was actually able to follow what was going on and grasp some of the characters’ motivations, which are quite different from their words.

Noah was in the last of the four scenes from modern plays. His was called Other Life Forms, although the title of the play was not announced ahead of time as with the other plays because the revelation that Noah’s character was an alien was the surprise ending of his scene, which up until that point seems to be a discussion between two friends of their respective love lives. The scene and the sharing ended with him saying, “I’m an alien from outer space” to laughter from the audience.

All the kids were good in all the roles. I guess if you’re still going to drama camp when you’re a teenager, you’ve self-selected. Noah was worried about this aspect of it ahead of time. Last year he did a week of drama tech, which is more up his alley, and he wasn’t sure if his acting skills were good enough for the oldest group, but he needn’t have fretted. He was really good, quite believable as a human and an alien.

Afterward, we got pizza and focaccia at an Italian deli and ate them in nearby park, followed by a trip to Haagen Dazs. The day had been hot but it had cooled down a little and it was pleasant to eat outside and celebrate another summer of good camp experiences behind us.

The weekend in between gymnastics camp and her last week of drama camp, I asked June what her favorite camp was this year and she said it was a tie between musical drama and sleep-away camp, “But I liked them all. I think I made good choices,” she said. She’s gained skills as a dancer, singer, and actor this summer; she learned to do a handspring and a one-handed cartwheel, and she slept away from home without relatives for the first time ever. I think I have to agree with her.

Noah enjoyed his camps, too, even if he still has a little regret over some mistakes he made in the band camp concert. He does tend to brood over things like that. I understand, being the same way. But I was glad he stretched himself and went to drama camp this year even though he was a little scared. That, in my opinion, is a stellar thing to do.