The first time I dropped Sam off at camp, I cried. Not because I flew 5 hours from AZ to NYC, then rented a car and drove another 2 hours to Liberty,NY. Not because we stayed in a gross hotel the night before drop off and not because I was leaving my 10 year old across the country for 3 weeks. I cried because a place like Stagedoor Manor actually exists.
You walk in any building at any time, and someone is singing a Broadway song (on key, I should add). The walls are covered with the names of obscure shows only theatre kids have heard of. It is a land where kids are flamboyant and unique and talented and no one stands out. They are all unique and they respect that about each other.
There is a pool that no one uses. A volleyball court no one steps foot on. Ping pong tables only utilized by siblings of campers during family visiting day. Kids there only want to live, eat and breathe theatre. It is a camp designed for a very specific type of kid.
The kids go to camp with an audition song or monologue and auditions are held the first day. The campers have no idea which shows are being done or what they are trying out for (although there are discussions for months prior between kids as to what they could be.)
There are 13 large scale shows put together each 3 week session. Names of the shows are not revealed for two days and shortly after, you find out which show you have been cast in. They do not allow parent contact during the first week so that the parents wont interfere with the casting process (and by interfere, I mean call and complain about their kid’s show placement).
Some shows are premiers, which means a show that has recently closed on Broadway and is no longer on tour, but is ready to be sold to local theatres. Many Broadway shows are tested at Stagedoor before being released to theatres to see what works and what doesn’t when teenagers perform these shows.
High School Musical, Rent, 13, Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Rent, even Spring Awakening all got tested there first.
The kids then rehearse for their show for 2 weeks while still taking acting, dancing and singing lessons. Parents, press and VIPs come to watch the shows the final weekend. You see your own child’s show twice, and then can choose what other shows you want to see.
This summer Sam was part of the premiere of “In The Heights.” It’s a great show with fun music and great choreography. We also saw fantastic productions of “Tommy” and the premiere of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
Everyone hugs each other at this camp all day long. And they all tell each other they are “amazing.” They say the word amazing all day long, actually, to describe everyone and everything.
There are also celebrities there because their kids go there as campers. Last year Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman’s daughter was there and, well, I stalked them. I apologize. I just really love Ethan’s, um, work. This year I sat next to Al Roker during a show and I watched him read his tweets during intermission. So, see, celebrities do read your tweets! And I spent a meal staring at the creator of the show Weeds whose daughter was a friend of Sam. She really really didn’t look like a woman who could write 8 seasons of a show about sex and drugs. She looked like a regular mom. And I’m sure I’m
the only wacko celebrity stalker who googled her in advance so I could identify who she was.
Tonight is the last night, where awards are given out and then those last hugs go out too. (Sam notified me at 2 am that he won for best featured actor in a musical.)
The older ones do what teenagers do at camp on the last night….and sometimes people kiss and they don’t remember who initiated it.., (this comment is for a particular former camp mate of mine on the Camp Seagull kitchen staff whose last night kiss memory in 1988 differs from my own. He reads this blog and wanted a shout out so there you go Brian!)
Anyhooo, Sam has that sad hits you in the gut camp is over feeling and I get it. It’s the worst.
But what In The Heights is about is the lengths parents go and the sacrifices they make to make their children’s dreams come true. And how important lifelong friendships are. And how being “home” means being with those friends. So don’t worry, Sam, in 11 months you will be back “home” at camp again.