*Freeze frame* So you’re probably wondering how I got here. A summer full of fun, hard-work and decision-making. With theatre oozing out of my every pore, I dedicated my blood, sweat and tears to my theatre camp in my cozy Brooklyn neighborhood. I managed a staff of six individuals, each skilled in various theatrical pursuits, to accomplish the task of teaching young children the ins and outs of the biz. My staff and I worked to educate the youth on what theatre is, how to come together as an ensemble and build their talents, skills and character towards a common goal. Theatre is a unique art that I believe relies on self-expression, so I made that my eight-week mission on the roller-coaster ride theatre camp I commandeered this summer.
I spent my summer as director of my very own theatre camp and it was one of the most invigorating experiences of my life. I managed my own small business with the help of my boss and mentor, who is the director of our sports camp, and he helped guide me through all the different aspects of my overwhelming job.
Before I jumped into the biggest shoes I’ve ever had to fill, I was a mere head counselor at the sports camp. I was very well-acquainted with the camp’s going-on’s and I got along well with my sports camp staff. Camp always felt like a family that grew and got closer year after year, and I loved my job. I fell in love with teaching and discovered working with children was my dream job through this counselor position. I was happily a head counselor until an intriguing phone call I received last April prompted me to make my big shift.
“Hello, Madalyn? Yes, I’m calling because I know you do a lot of theatre-related things, and I wanted to let you know we are looking for a new theatre director at camp. Would you be interested in applying? Great! Could you come in next weekend with a script and a schedule for the camp so we can see how’d you implement your changes? See you next weekend!”
And with that phone call, I started making my moves. One week to write a full children’s musical and draw up a schedule template for an eight-week theatre program, mind you a theatre program I had no prior experience in? All while still up at school, approaching finals? I was up for the challenge and in way over my head.
Now, I do have a large theatre background in multiple fields. I’ve been an actor, writer, director, producer and crew member in one way or another throughout my high school career and in the real world. My high school put a huge emphasis on the arts and I was a starry-eyed theatre kid at heart since I joined my first improv troupe in sixth grade. I had the knowledge and background to support my resumé, but not enough practical experience to “implement my changes” to a well-known, established business with credentials and clientele.
I sat myself down and wrote a script loosely based off of the Moana plot, adding in some water conversation themes and songs here and there, and sprinkling in other famous aquatic tales, like The Little Mermaid. The first draft was truly a steaming mess, but I was proud I got it down. Now onto finding a staff to work with that complimented my business model and create a schedule.
I came in the next weekend ready to go. I met with my bosses, who went over my plans and pieces, and I was hired on the spot. The dedication paid off and I figured “Well it’s gotta get easier from here, right?”
I was very wrong.
After being hired in late April, I had May and June to prepare for my camp. This meant buying costumes, props, fabrics, paints, set pieces, backdrops, writing two more musicals (which I opted to present a tiny version of Shakespeare in the Park instead of a third musical—it’s classy and more my style), interview and hire a full staff, train and educate them on teaching theatre and working with kids, make about 90 phone calls to all the previous parents and families who attended the camp with the previous director to introduce myself and register them for my summer, and so much more. It was a tedious two months.
Finally, June 25 arrived and my first day as director began. I stepped into my favorite red pumps and business casual dress and tackled the day. Little did I know that I was going to have to tackle every single day head-first, because running a business presents challenges you never knew it possibly could.
Managing money and working within a budget was something I exceeded at. Directing the scenes and the children was my forté. Handling parents’ questions and concerns, I quickly got the hang of. Organization, planning, and crisis control/problem solving were some of my strengths.
On the flip side, managing my staff presented countless issues because working closely with the same people every day is very challenging when you face differences. On that same vein, disciplinary action is one of the hardest parts of being a boss. The struggle of reprimanding or firing people feels terrible, but it is entirely necessary. Execution, discipline and maximizing efficiency were my weaknesses.
The best part of my days were when I got to work closely with the kids. Directing them, teaching them my craft and watching them fall in love with theatre the way I did was monumental. Inspiring children to be comfortable with who they are and express that through such an open form of performance made me decidedly sure I was in the right place. Camp gave them a place to be silly, make friends and explore new avenues of art that they’d never encountered before. The variety in my methods and my staff’s expertise exposed them to many different types of theatre, so they got a taste for all the ways they could communicate themselves on stage.
Putting together three entire shows was also infinitely challenging because of the consistent amount of time, money, energy and effort that is needed from all ends. My staff was tight-knit but small, so we needed a lot of help. Luckily, my lovely sports camp staff worked right alongside me whenever I needed it to help push us along in our processes. Every member of the sports camp supported us, which was the key in putting it all together.
Throughout the eight weeks, I had lots of big ideas and I pushed them as far along as I could. I aimed to make children happy and teach them theatre, which they all did. My kids came at 8 a.m. ready to work and left at 3 p.m. with smiles on their faces. Fun, self expression and creativity were my top priorities, and in the end I got that in buckets.
I had to learn the hard way that not all plans work out, being adaptable to change is stupendously important, and stepping back from perfectionism and paying attention to what you have in front of you and what you can do with it is a must.
This experience changed my life and set me on a career path I feel solidified in. The unexpected delight of it all, however, is that it opened my eyes to how important love and support are in achieving your goals. I’ve never felt more encouraged, appreciated nor loved than I have this summer, and I owe everything I did to all the people who stood by my side day-in and day-out. My directorial and managerial debut went off not without a hitch, but with a lot of bumps that taught me everything I need to know walking back into my camp next year.