In the beginning of a monologue she created this summer, 12-year old Gabriela Campoverde wrote, “I am from the closet in my aunts’ house because it’s dark and no one can find me there.”
The soft-spoken, shy Campoverde was one of seven students who participated in the first ever summer camp offered by the Park Performing Arts Center (Park PAC) in Union City.
The five-week long theatre camp, part of Park PAC’s new initiative for community outreach, was designed for fourth through eighth graders to learn new skills, make new friends, and increase confidence.
And it seems those were exactly the results produced for Campoverde, who ended her monologue with, “I am from Park PAC, where I learned to sing, act, dance, and speak louder.”
“You can be different characters. You don’t have to be yourself.” – Ileana Lopez
Prompted by the phrase “I Am From” and several ideas for the end of the sentence (including everything from favorite candy to where you go when you’re sad), each student wrote a monologue about his or her life and performed it during their grand finale show on Aug. 12.
Gonzalez said that when camp began in July, he envisioned the kids would just do typical theatre activities, but after an exercise introduced them to miming, Gonzalez said the kids took to the idea of performing without words.
“I was envisioning ‘sing a song, do a scene,’ ” said Gonzalez. “But they said, ‘Mr. G – let’s do this!’”
The camp quickly became centered on the power of using bodies to tell a story instead of just mouths. The kids became enamored with things like Charlie Chaplin and silent movies.
“With pressure of speech or singing removed, they become more open,” said Gonzalez. “It [brought] more focus and character to their performance.”
The results were so positive that Gonzalez said he will continue using the silent exercises in conjunction with spoken word and singing in future camps.
“It evolved into what it should be,” said Gonzalez. “And that’s how theatre should be.”
Gonzalez used games with titles like “Murder” and “China Wall” to get the kids to loosen up and build a team mentality for the stage.
Such games also provided an opportunity for the kids to run around.
“We get really sweaty here actually,” said 8-year-old Audrey Murtha of Union City.
While many of the kids had performed in some capacity prior to the camp, they all agreed that the activities helped them expand their talents.
“Most of us have our own special talents,” said Jocelyn Garcia, 14, of Ridgefield Park. “It’s helped me a lot, especially with my vocalizing.”
For 7-year-old Gabriella Hernandez, concentrating and learning was the best part because, she said, “I have to learn focus.”
And while Maya Borton, 9, hopes to take her acting skills to Broadway one day, Samuel Marsh, also 9, was just excited to perform on the “great stage” at Park PAC.
Gonzalez said that the camp provided a challenging experience for kids as well as life skills to walk away with at the end, a message that resonated with his students.
“You can be different characters,” said 11-year-old Ileana Lopez. “You don’t have to be yourself.”
Planning for the future
Gonzalez was assisted by his daughter, Sandra Gonzalez, a student at St. Peter’s College who also learned from the experience.
“It’s been really great working with him,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot.”
Though the numbers were low this summer for the first year of the camp, Gonzalez said he would like to keep class sizes down even with higher enrollment in the future because of how well the students interacted in the small group.
This year, parents paid $475 for six weeks of camp. Gonzalez is hoping that Park PAC will be able to secure corporate or government underwriting to help fund the program next year.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at email@example.com.