Summer! It’s a time to sing. It’s a time to dance. It’s a time to play, create, express and be a kid. Dream Wrights Youth and Family Theatre is a-buzz all summer long with Camps that take boredom and idle time and transform it into imaginative time, creative time, expansive and expressive time. There’s no time for video games, television or sleeping in until noon. Dream Wrights offers programming designed to facilitate youths’ growth into their Creative Selves.
I visited the Broadway Dance Camp and the Creativity Camp and witnessed the energy, talent, and fun that be-bops through the rooms and halls of Dream Wrights.
Broadway Dance Camp is taught by Miss. Alecia Knott. Alecia has an impressive resume of dance and theater experience and is bound for Pointe Park University to study Musical Theatre this fall. Her class members rage in age from 12-16 years old and every one of these kids bring a uniquely creative element to the mix. After ice breaking games designed to foster creative expression and acceptance, Miss. Alecia teaches her students about the foundations of dance, voice and acting.
One of the first exercises of Broadway Dance Camp is called “Character Cue”. Miss. Alecia put on a piece of music from The Wedding Singer and told the kids to “Go for a walk. Explore your space. Don’t interact with anyone – just walk.” And as the music played on, she led the kids through an exercise ultimately transforming each student into a character of his or her own design. “How do they walk?, What’s their attitude?, What do their hands do?, Are they ticked off? Are they thrilled?” Miss Alecia challenged her students to become their character. Soon, the students were characters in a performance piece and began interacting with each other mingling, giggling, making eyes, and dancing, as characters in a play. Miss. Alecia reminds her students frequently “We are in a safe place”. Dream Wrights is a place to be, to express, to push the limits of character. No one makes fun of you at Dream Wrights.
At lunch, I had a chance to learn a bit about the students, their creative backgrounds and passions. As the students were comparing sandwiches of salami, provolone and mayo, I learned that Lauren has been performing at Dream Wrights since she was 7 years old. Victoria lives in Rhode Island and is visiting her father in York for the summer. She said that her Dad found Dream Wrights on-line and knowing her passion for song and dance, decided to sign her up.
Bradlee, age 16, has grown up in the arts and theatre. He participated in his first theatre camp at when he was 5 years old. His mom, Paula, told me that he began acting out parts of movies like the Wizard of Oz and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when he was just two years old.
Bradlee is a student of theatre. He told me “When I go to a show I’m just in awe of the talent.” He’s been taking voice lessons for 6 years and plans to major in Musical Theater at the University of Arts in Philadelphia.
Miss. Alecia works with her students on both skill and character development. I watched the students learn and practice graceful leaps. The kids made pass after pass back and forth right in front of me, creating a breeze of excitement and energy. Miss. Alecia called out pointers and affirmations as her students focused, lifted those back legs and sprung to new heights.
Broadway Dance Camp runs for only one week. The students move quickly through the steps to creating a group performance and an individual number to be performed on the Dream Wrights stage. In one week’s time, they formulate their own character and become part of a cohesive group of entertainers, all the while, being entertained themselves. During a rehearsal break, I asked the kids to shout out their favorite thing about Broadway Dance Camp at Dream Wrights. Here’s a sampling of what I heard “Being yourself!”, “No judgement zone!”, “Being able to do whatever you want and not even caring!”
13 year old Morgan has been in 15 shows, 4 musicals and is involved with Dream Wrights year-round. She reflected on her role in “Ramona Quimby” and mused “I was the mean girl and I thought that was fun.”
At the end of the week, students perform before an audience of other Dream Wrights Campers, staff and parents. On show day, the energy is infectious. Meredith told me about her grandfather just a few hours before taking to the stage. She said “I imagine him. He encouraged me to sing. He was there for everything I did. He died 3 years ago. When I’m performing I just imagine him. I would sing to him.”
Downstairs at Dream Wrights, Mr. Jesse Snyder leads Creativity Camp for 7-10 year olds. Mr. Jesse introduces his class of 17 kiddos to the basics of theatre. Jesse has been involved in performance theatre since he was 7 years old. Teaching this Camp allows him to exercise his love for theater and for kids.
Jesse explained that in Creativity Camp, kids create their own play by starting with drawing, then collectively brainstorming a plot, characters, & conflict all based on those initial drawings. Of the kids in his Camp Mr. Jesse says: “They’re so creative.” After all of the planning is finished, the kids get to create costumes from scrap materials. The finished play is scripted and complete with all the elements of story. Each student plays a role in the performance and develops his or her own character.
As if creating a play is not enough fun, Mr. Jesse infuses his class with games focused on building theatrical skills. I watched the students play a few rounds of “Gargoyles”, a game designed to teach the skill of posing motionless as one would at the opening of a scene in a play. The kids are challenged to get each other to break their pose without talking or touching one another.
I chatted with the kids just before their performance and felt the buzz of excitement among them. 8 year old Alyssa, who plays “Addison” in the play told me “My favorite part was when we shared ideas”. 8 year old Sam beamed and said: “Well, I liked making the characters because you could be anything you wanted. I like the characters because I’m a Jedi”. 9 year old Jonathan seconded Sam and added “I get to wear a Jedi Robe and carry a light saber.”
At the end of each day of Camp, Miss. Alecia and Mr. Jesse combine their groups and play one big game of ‘Gargoyles”. Both Alecia and Jesse believe in the power of mentorship, having been mentored through theatre themselves.
I have always wondered what goes on behind those big yellow brick walls of Dream Wrights, and now I know. There’s wide-open space for self-exploration and expression at Dream Wrights. There’s art. There’s talent. There’s camaraderie and the thrill of performance. Dream Wrights is a youthful and exuberant example of The Good in York City.