Recently I have been contacted multiple times on how to run a 1-week summer drama camp and questions around it. So, I figured I would write a post on how to do it and hopefully help any others who want to get kids excited about Shakespeare and drama!
First of all, YES, yes you can do it. It’s easier than you think. Secondly, YES, yes the kids CAN MEMORIZE all their lines by the end of the week. I’ve taught a summer drama camp over 20 times and haven’t found a kid who couldn’t be successful yet!
The Basic Steps
Here’s my basic formula, and I have teachers that vary this around, but, it’ll get you in the ballpark of where you need to be. Please keep in mind this class outline is all based around the Playing With Plays scripts that are designed to be 15-25 minute shows with adjustable cast sizes. (from 6-20+ kids. Very flexible!)
We base this on a 1-week summer drama camp that is 3-hours daily. We meet Monday morning and perform Friday at the end of class. How many kids you want depends on how you manage kids and if you have any assistance. Here’s a link to a basic week schedule that I use as a reference. However, the basic key details are below:
- Day 1: We meet, do name games, do a read-through of the play, and, of course, our unique and crazy auditions! (give me your best death!)
- That afternoon I cast and email all the parents
- Day 2: We do read-throughs as our parts, then we start blocking on stage.
- Day 3: (still on-book) We do blocking and rehearsals
- Day 4: (off book) Rehearsals and costume fun at the end of the day.
- Day 5: Dress rehearsals (at least 2 if possible), photo-shoot, then show at the end of class. After cast party, if you want.
That’s it, easy-peasy!
Now, here are more details to help you with your summer drama camp, as I just outlined the basics for you.
- Day 1: Read-through – when I hand out the parts for the read-through I sit the kids in a circle and literally hand out the parts in order as I go around the circle. Boys get girl parts, girls get boy parts, doesn’t matter. This helps me keep track of who has what part as we read. Also, remind the kids that auditions will be later, and this is NOT your given part (although, many kids choose the part they read, as they are already starting to feel ownership of it).
- Day 1: Auditions – Since summer drama camp is short, I typically will take the main characters and divide their parts into two. It balances out lines for more kids, adds an extra decent role, and doesn’t put all the pressure on a kid that has a much larger part than the rest. (i.e. Hamlet, d’Artagnan, Oliver Twist, Prospero, Puck, Mowgli, etc. it’s your call) I will have the kids fill out an audition sheet (linked here) and advise them at that time that I will be dividing up “hamlet” to 2 parts. If they know this before, it’s no big deal, but if you tell them afterward, they might get a bit frustrated.
- Day 1: Casting – I use this handy-dandy character line quantity cheat-sheet to let me know how many lines each character has in each play
- Day 1: Email the parents – in the email, I always let them know the basic schedule, when the performance is (don’t want someone heading out for a family vacation – it’s happened!), and when kids are expected to be off-book.
- Day 4: Costume fun – I always use this as a way to keep the kids on track. You may have a group of well organized and behaved kids, or you may not. But, they all like to play dress-up in their costumes. So, I let them know that we will be doing costumes at the end of day, IF we can make it through the script twice. (you use whatever criteria you want)
- Day 5: Photo-shoot – this is a fun one. It’s a quick, with my iphone, photo-shoot. All of the shots are staged, such as pointing their swords at the camera, or melodramatic facial poses, or relationship poses (king and his henchmen; lovers in Midsummer; all the musketeers with their swords pointed up; or all the pirates giving me their dirtiest pirate face!) As well as a cast photo. Parents love seeing them later as I put them online (private only).
- Day 5: Dress rehearsals – I don’t help them. AT. ALL. I tell them that ahead of time. As well, they should read along backstage, so they know when to enter. If they are missing a line, or missing an entrance, I don’t help. AT. ALL. Sometimes, it’s painful to watch – but remember, when the show is live, you will not be helping. You’ll be AMAZED at how well they start realizing to pay attention, hitting their cues, and saving each other. By the time you do this twice, they have it nailed. Remember, let them know this is a team sport. We are here to help each other.
- Day 5 Show – The last half hour of class is show. I never let the families in until a few minutes before show. Before I do let the audience in I tell the kids, “This is for fun. So, have fun.” Then I follow it up with, “I’ve done over 100 shows, do you know how many of them went perfect? None. Zero, zilch, nada… So, this one will not be perfect either, but that’s ok. We will have fun and help each other, that’s what it’s all about.” This is more about taking the pressure off of them about doing a perfect job. As one of my kids told me, “My parents’ expectations can be brutal!” True. I remind them that this is a “warm” audience, in other words, it’s friends and family who care that you do well and will support you. The last thing I have them do, before I open that door is scream. We all get on stage and let out the biggest scream we possibly can. This helps get rid of some of that anxious, nervous energy that comes along with performing.
- Day 6 – What? I thought this was a 5-day class?! Yes, it is, but you still have to send out a link to the photos, and maybe a video, if you recorded it. I always record, 2 reasons: 1) I want Grandma and Grandpa who live 2,000 miles away to be able to see little Billy in his performance and 2) it stops parents from recording with their phones and basically being annoying to everyone around them. There’s nothing like an audience all with their phones out blocking the view of the parent behind them! But, if you post a video, be sure you set it to private, so the parents can only see it from the link you sent.
When the time comes where you need to have the kids do something while they are not on stage, I’ll have them fill out their “actor’s description” sheet, and possibly make a drawing of themselves, too. We will hang these where the parents can see them prior to coming into the show.
What should I charge for camp?
Good question. First, find a location and understand that cost. I’ve seen people use school classes, their backyard porch, yoga studios, castles, churches, and parks & rec centers. If you do work with your local parks and recreation department, they will help you advertise, manage registration, and give you a place to use typically at no cost. They typically take between 30 to 40% for your enrollment. Let’s say you charge $100 per student, $30 would go to parks and rec and $70 will go to you. But, that $30 pays for enrollment, advertisement, and space. All you should have to do is show up and run the class.
Oh, one more thing, I always add a $20 material fee to cover the cost of the book as well as any consumable costumes for the week. The material fee gets paid to me on the First day of class. I have seen teachers do both material fees as well as no material fees, and give the books to the kids from the main cost of the class. This is your call, as to what you feel is appropriate for both you and your parents.
As for cost per student, that’s all dependent upon how many hours a day you run your camp as well as where you are located. In smaller towns, I have seen costs as low $70 for a 2-hour daily class and as high as $199 for a 3-hour daily class. Plus a $20 material fee per student. In the San Francisco bay area, or other larger metro areas, that same class I would charge $300+ per student as well as at least a $25 material fee. Again, you just need to know your audience and what they will pay. Look at any other camps in the area to get a feel of what is being charged for watching someone’s kids for a week! That’s a great baseline to see what you can charge. You may want to start slightly low until you build an audience and reputation.
As for the costs of books. And, if you are charging the kids to be part of the class, we do expect you to purchase a book per kid, assuming you are doing a Playing With Plays camp. You can get them directly through Amazon at $10/book and in 2 days. Or, through us at $8/book, but it does take 2-3 weeks for the books to arrive. Or, you can purchase through us ahead of time and return what you don’t use via media mail (USPS, very inexpensive!!!)
Easiest Class to Start With?
Julius Caesar for Kids. The main reason why is the costuming. Making a toga is easy AND free. See this handy-dandy trick to make simple and free togas. And yes, I’ve done it several times from several hotels. Easy.
The other main reason Caesar is a good play to start with is it’s a tragedy. Kids LOVE to melodramatically die on stage. As well, it’s easier to get a laugh from the audience with physical comedy (melodramatic deaths, evil laughs, sword fights, chase scenes, etc.) than with a comedy that relies more on a line being said correctly to get the same laugh. It’s a nuance of language, but it’s better to hook the kids on the greatness of Shakespeare and classics via the tragedies! (I’ve done this countless times in dozens of schools and areas, it works!)
That’s about it. So, get out there and run your own summer drama camp!
If you have questions or need any support, let us know!