Branching Out

By Julie D. Polkes

Camp is a place where children go to have fun and connect socially, but it can also be a place where children learn—particularly at camps with specialized programs. Even if your daily program isn’t youth- or child-based, starting a camp based on a program you offer year-round may not only extend your brand, but provide opportunities to impact a child’s development and self-esteem, and teach him or her new and useful skills that may be out of a daily routine.

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Understanding the value the program brings to college-age students, Studio School Los Angeles, an accredited post-secondary school offering bachelor of fine arts degrees in all areas of entertainment and performing arts, is partnering with US Performing Arts Camps (USPA) to become its newest location in offering a unique summer-camp experience. The program at Studio School will parallel its year-round college program to offer an intensive, immersive program that covers a wide variety of performing-arts disciplines. Unlike the school, which is geared towards those pursuing a career in entertainment and performing arts, the camp is tailored to kids who are passionate about theater arts. In some instances, this may include those who are just curious, while others may be focusing on an acting career at a young age. The point of the camp is to help nurture a child’s curiosity in a creative space instead of spending days in front of a screen or in cyberspace.

Studio School President Glenn Kalison explains, “We started our school by building teen camps in a Hollywood studio. Now, knowing the significance that participation in the performing arts can have on a child’s personal growth, we wanted to build upon our expertise and expand our programs to include young adults attending college and focused on an arts career path. The key for us was to partner with an organization that aligned with our mission rather than create an entirely new program. Our camp is an extension of our year-round program, keeping the core of what we offer and tailoring it to a summer camp.”

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Where To Begin
Starting a camp has its challenges. Like all financial investments, it comes with risks. It requires hiring staff members (or, in the case of Studio School, retaining instructors for the summer program); making sure there is appropriate space; and, though using a baseline and core curriculum, creating an experience that is not school-like, but camp and camper-appropriate in tone. At the same time, a camp must deliver an experience that is unique; for Studio School, that is working in a Hollywood studio.

The all-day school program at Studio School looks to include a wider variety of activities for campers attending their USPA Studio School camp to ensure that campers experience the social and fun aspects of camp as well as the access to Studio School’s core programs. As early as the 1960s, there were schools—both full-time and after-school programs—that opened summer camps. Christine Fokine Biddleman, whose ex-husband Vitale Fokine was the son of famed Russian choreographer and dancer Michel Fokine, knew the value of bringing her school to a wider variety of kids in the summer. She transformed the intensive classes from Fokine Ballet School—primarily geared towards the serious dance student—into Fokine Ballet Camp, which attracted a wider variety of kids (i.e., ballet enthusiasts as well as those aspiring to be professional dancers). While the intensive, technique-oriented classes from her school were given for three hours every morning, the afternoon provided campers the opportunity to participate in typical camp activities, such as tennis and swimming.

Extending A Year-Round Academic Or Lesson-Based Program
Define the goals and mission. Even though USPA at Studio School is deeply rooted in a program that has been tried and true, each city and community has regional nuances. One must know the audience and the city and maximize the location to balance indoor and outdoor programming time. In Los Angeles, for example, outdoor settings work well. However, the same may not be true for a camp in a cooler climate. Also, in evaluating goals and missions, keep in mind that while you want to hold true to the structure of an academic program, balancing fun and programming is a must.

Establish partnerships. Looking for a partner who may already have an established camp program that aligns with yours can be advantageous. Studio School partnered with USPA, an established brand that brings structure and shares the mission of bringing a performing-arts education to the next generation.

Determine what works well and what doesn't. What works in New York may not work well in Los Angeles or Chicago. This means that curriculum and programming—though tied together—may need a tweak or two from city to city. In the case of a performing-arts camp, one site may be focused on acting exercises that are rooted in classical theater, where while in another part of the country programming may focus on acting in front of a camera. Auditing campers and their families is a great idea; not knowing the “audience” can be a recipe for camper malaise and frustration for counselors and kids. Remember—campers have wide interests, so it is important to determine what additional activities to offer outside a core program.

Be aware of challenges. Even if tied to an incredibly successful brand, there will be a hiccup or two that is unforeseen—bad weather occurs, a counselor falls ill, the campers are not meshing, or a program does not match camper expectations for one reason or another. Be prepared for obstacles; have a contingency plan that allows for backup programming and provide opportunities for respectful and transparent communication with campers and their families. Things can go sideways when expectations are not met, and, in most instances, that is due to poor communication from the onset. Kids like structure, even if they complain about it, and structure comes from setting expectations for campers, staff members, and parents.

Even though the programming may be modeled after a great base curriculum, camp is not school; camp is a series of experiences over a short period of time that imparts education, friendship, and relationship development. When you expand your existing program into a camp, remember it is about skill building and also about memory building.

Studio School Los Angeles is a project-oriented, hands-on program that covers the breadth of performing-arts disciplines, including acting, film, musical theatre, and dance. The Studio School location is the only USPA Camp located on a working studio lot, and offers students an immersive experience with unique opportunities, including access to working sets and sound stages and the chance to work with professional filmmakers. For more information, visit https://studioschool.org/.