I've spent the majority of my days the last week chasing, controlling, coaching, correcting, challenging, and cheering about 30 kids between the ages of 5 and 13. For five days I've worked as a counselor and vocal director for the Christian Youth Theatre (CYT) Redding Summer Camp, and I'll admit, I went into the program feeling apprehensive and more than a little unprepared. For some reason, I've never exactly considered myself a "kid-person." But the opportunity for this job fell into my lap and the timing couldn't have been better--it's my last week in Redding before I take off for southern California this tuesday for a week to then board a plane to the UK. If I hadn't had this to occupy my time and thoughts...well, it's just good I had it.
Going into the week, I knew I would have to release most of my perfectionist tendencies. The kids were coming to the camp to play silly acting games, sing some songs, learn some dances and make new friends, not to get trained to become the next great Broadway star. One of the things I took away from directing Spring Sing last year was that I sometimes let my impossibly high standards and ideals take away from the spirit and life of the experience. And if I couldn't organize a group of college students to materialize my vision in three months of hard work, I'd really have to relax for five days with a group of easily distracted ten year olds. Directing is about translating vision into hard work that becomes a great production, sure, but this camp brought me back to what drew me to theatre in the first place--the community of eccentric individuals coming together for a common purpose, to create. The chance for even the most underestimated, shy little girl to step into the spotlight for a short solo that draws applause mid-song. The drama-queens mentoring the wallflowers, the techies eating with the lead. The cracking of shells and building of confidences.
As the week went on, the kids became more than bundles of energy to control and name-tags to memorize. And I watched as I become more to them than a tall person in a grey STAFF shirt. By the end of the week I knew all their names, but I also knew most of them as people. Yes, children are people. Why did this feel like such a revelation? Hard to harness but easy to love. Exhausting and exhilarating. Full of curiosity and innocence and accidental humor. And killer intuition. I swear, every moment I felt a bit of stress or frustration creeping up, one of them would be wrapping their arms around me with their nose to my bellybutton--a hug for no reason, just a spontaneous expression of love--and the every negativity would melt away. Their world lights up with a high five, with a secret extra piece of candy, an endless game of tag where I am always It because they don't like to be caught. I hope they remember me, Wall-E, the singing teacher with funny warm ups and enough love for all of them.