We did it! Excused Absence offered summer camps at two Round Rock ISD campuses for the first time in July of 2022. Honestly, it was fantastic.
The week Of July 18th was comprised of 7 middle students and took place at the Pearson Ranch campus. We had access to a classroom, the black box theatre and the cafeteria stage at next door campus England Elementary. Though there were a few morning camps, we were the only group on campus in the afternoons.
There are few things more awkward than the first hours of Improv camp, and for middle schoolers this can be even more true. Monday morning together was controlled and focused, students holding back a little as they felt out the situation. But by afternoon the group had gotten to know one another and transformed into a team of high energy goofballs.
The week was full of comedy discoveries and adventures both on the stage and off. With an empty middle school at our disposal, we definitely poked our heads into hallways and classrooms during break times and made up endless stories about the ghosts roaming the halls (fwiw, no supernatural entities were actually spotted).
By Thursday, they had become a tight comedy unit and performed a hilarious 50 minute set for friends and family that was full of the unique humor created by this specific group of collaborators. It is always a pleasure to see a randomly formed collection of people grow into a supportive, smart team of collaborators. It was a fantastic week.
The week of July 25th, we found ourselves with a larger, younger group. Epic Improv included 20 students between the ages of 8 and 12 and was held on the campus of England Elementary. Unlike the prior week, we were one of many camps and there was a definite feeling of being part of something larger.
Monday morning began with the usual awkwardness as students glanced around the room and at one another. We always begin with a camp wide morning meeting to communicate information about the schedule, Improv basics, behavior expectations, etc., followed by a full group warm up. We took a short snack break then split into smaller groups based on age and dove into Improv. Once again, by afternoon, friendships had been established and an understanding of what we would do together had developed.
As is often the case, our original groups morphed as connections were made and ideas shared. Our teaching artists found the character games and story exercises that best fit each small group and directed them in making choices that best served the collaborative nature of Improv. Twenty is a pretty average number of participants for an ExAb summer camp, but not having the theater’s lights and sound, various classrooms, etc. changed the rhythm of our days to some degree. On the plus side, some students loved the chance to go out on the playground after lunch, and the infrastructure of RRISD’s program was helpful in countless ways. It was also undeniably nice to have teachers, counselors and students in the building taking part in other camps and even jumping in to lend support sometimes. But it still took us a little time to figure out how to put on a show with that many kids on a brightly lit cafeteria stage. As teaching artists, we realized how heavily we sometimes lean on the tech booth to fill in the gaps, and together worked to restructure entrances and exits, wait times, etc
When the last day of camp showcase arrived, the group was excited and nervous, but mostly eager to perform. Just prior to the show, we gathered the cast behind the cafeteria curtain and guided them through an exercise where the group tells each member some of the great things they do both on and off the stage. And then we were ready!
The first several acts went beautifully and the audience laughed loudly and often. With our fourth act, however, things went off the rails in a way that I haven’t experienced in a camp show that I can recall. On a whim, I allowed several students to jump in on the scene but soon realized that the actors onstage were not communicating and had begun to make moves that were clearly annoying other players. As a director, my instinct is to change the direction of what’s happening and help both the players and the audience enjoy what’s happening. In this case, it was hard to help several performers understand that it was time to move on. For the first time I can remember, I simply told the audience that, in Improv, we have to be flexible. Because if that, we were going to stick with the scene until the performers were ready to move on. And it was all ok.
We finished the show, the crowd went wild. The kids hugged one another and their teachers. Many photos were taken. We all said goodbye for now.
Maybe it wasn’t a perfect show, but it was a perfect outcome.