IU students work with local kids through intensive summer camp
By Cadence Baugh
At the Stages Bloomington summer camp, participants learn how to take the stage, enter the spotlight and even understand the message underneath the script. But when it comes to inspiring a childlike state of wonder, the IU students who work at the camp also have something to learn from the campers.
The nearly 40 children who entered the theater arts education and performance camp in June 2017 spent two weeks learning and rehearsing two productions that were showcased on the last day of camp. Campers were divided into two age groups: First Stages (grades 1-4) performed “Shipwrecked!”, an original pirate island adventure written by Liam Castellan, who also directed the group. Participants in Center Stages (grades 5-8) performed “Once On This Island, Jr.,” a contemporary musical about forbidden love between a ruling-class aristocrat and a rural peasant, fraught with division within the class system, and ultimately proving love in the face of adversity.
Castellan, a third-year MFA student at IU, said this was the first time he had directed children in the first- to fourth-grade age group.
“I was frankly a little nervous once I found out that I had 20 of them in this age range,” Castellan said. “At this age, it is really about tapping into their imagination and then keeping them there. Kids are all about playing pretend, and it’s just about channeling that into the world of the play.”
Castellan began directing as a teenager, when he worked at Hedgerow Theatre Company, just outside of his hometown of Philadelphia. He graduated from the theater program at Northwestern University and directed on stages across the country before eventually landing in Bloomington, where he is pursuing his master’s degree in directing. In December 2016, Castellan directed “The Exonerated,” his first mainstage production at IU.
Castellan tailored his original script for Shipwrecked! to his 20 First Stages campers. Drawing songs from “Muppet Treasure Island” and “Moana,” Castellan based his inspiration on the theme of being shipwrecked on an island at sea, using playful pop culture references and jokes that he hopes to apply back in the classroom at IU.
“I think, even when working with adults, there should be a sense of play with all parts of a production, drawing from a sense of possibility,” Castellan said. “That’s part of what I am hoping to take from this experience back into working with college students and professionals.”
Between tongue twisters, set design drawings, singing and projection techniques, Center Stages campers also analyzed the script and discussed class differences, the underlying theme of “Once On This Island, Jr.”
“Since we are doing this show that is so based on the tension between two different world experiences on one island, we wanted to find a way to really connect that to the kids,” said Cordelia Driussi, a camp counselor. Driussi is an IU senior studying theater education in the Department of Theatre, Drama & Contemporary Dance within the College of Arts and Sciences.
“We were able to relate the themes of the show to things that they have experienced in their own lives,” Driussi said. “The campers got a really good understanding of class tensions, which isn’t really something you would expect fourth- through eighth-graders to really grasp. Whenever they can connect these big ideas to things they experience themselves, then they can develop empathy, which is so important.”
A day in the camp consisted of two large rehearsal blocks for the performance in the morning and the afternoon, along with elective courses such as acting, singing and theater games scattered throughout the day. While Stages Bloomington camp exposed participants to different theatrical techniques, ideas and training, and challenged them in the areas of acting, singing, choreography and teamwork, Castellan said it did more than that.
“Doing theater helps build their confidence,” Castellan said. “Stage presence transfers eventually to school presentations and public speaking. In theater, there are all sorts of transferable experiences and skills, like problem-solving and the ability to focus. It’s not always going to be your line. You are not always going to be the point of a particular scene — and learning that really helps you move through the world.”
Driussi co-taught a theater course at Bloomington High School North during the Spring 2017 semester, where she wrote lesson plans and executed them in the classroom. She says working with elementary school students at the summer camp was a unique opportunity that exposed her to a different age group of kids, and she hopes to teach theater after graduating from IU.
“I like working with these kids because they have this wealth of energy, ideas and creativity,” Driussi said. “Often, as we are getting older, that energy and creativity can sort of become dulled. I want to make sure that I can be there to support that creativity.”
At the end of the day, there was something to take back from the campers.
“To see their energy and passion and belief in what they are doing was pretty inspiring,” Castellan said. “I really feel like they were teaching me something, so I felt privileged to be there.”