Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I taught the children on Monday, subbing for a friend at a drama camp in the burbs. Two classes of middle schoolers made my day. They threw themselves into everything they did with complete abandon, didn't judge each other, and quickly grasped the point of exercises that throw off less game high schoolers.

The camp took theater seriously. It reminded me a bit of the summer drama program I did as a kid, which reminds me, let's be honest, of the camp counselor played by Amy Poehler in Wet Hot American Summer. No, this camp had a great atmosphere. Mine did too, although this one was taught by big-city professionals, whereas mine was taught by tiny city professionals who think they're big-city professionals -- think Corky in Waiting for Guffman. In both cases, the camps taught the kids to have respect for their work, which is so important. Too often, kids get told everything they do is great, and they can see right through it. It means more when you're paying attention to where they're getting stuck and where they're actually deserving praise.

I loved taking theater super-seriously as a kid. I was the sycophantic child who stood up straighter when a fellow performer got nailed for not "respecting the stage." When the dance teacher at Summerfest moved me to the back row because I couldn't master the time step, I didn't even resent it that much. I knew I looked clunky. As a high school student, I started studying craft, searching high and low for something that could teach me how to act in Alabama. I attended the Cherub program at Northwestern, where I saw ensemble-created and experimental theater for the first time and learned some actual technique. I learned, for example, the importance of "preparation" before entering a scene, which I unfortunately interpreted to mean you should make yourself hyperventilate backstage before doing something dramatic. I never passed out, but that was just dumb luck.

Anyway, these camp kids made me remember how exciting theater was and still can be.

The best thing I heard at the camp, though, came, not from a kid, but from an elderly custodian. He asked me, "Is that fellow with you?" gesturing to a man down the hall, "Does he belong to the camp?"

"Oh, I don't know. I don't recognize him," I said, "but I'm just a sub. I'm not a regular."

He said, "Not irregular, huh? Well it comes with age," in the driest, most curmudgeonly voice I've ever heard.


Rutgers Theatre Alumni Network West Coast said...

Terrific post, Rachel. As a product of one too many drama clubs in one's youth, I can relate. Especially to the part when theatre reminds one what theatre should be--all too easily lost, say in, L.A. Yours from the Coast, Wally

Rachel Wilson said...

Wally!!!! Thanks for visiting!

Jason said...

Rachel, the kids totally dug what you did with them, and I agree with your comments on kids learning theatre. I had to write a weekly newsletter for their families today, and had a real sense of gratitude for the work these guys are putting in. I am awestruck by some of their talent. Thanks again, supersub!