Madison Square Center for the Arts hosts summer camps

Madison Square Center for the Arts hosts summer camps


This camp moves to a different beat.

There is plenty of music, dancing and singing, plus improvisation games, art and more all day during the two-week camp that is happening now at Madison Square Center for the Arts. This camp has been a tradition for arts-loving campers for about 20 or so years.

“This is a great introduction to live theater for children and teens. Our aim is to get all the campers the best training and experience they can get from auditioning to learning the music,” camp director Megan Mayhan said. “It’s also so much fun for the campers and staff too.

Each morning starts with a fast-paced game, like Quidditch or Bippity Bippity Bop, that gets the campers energized for the day. Music plays almost continuously in the background, and campers and counselors spontaneously start singing and dancing whenever there is a break in the action. Classes are meant to educate and prepare the campers for the big show. Art projects revolve around the theme of the production. Music class focuses on the songs each age group sings, and in the case of the younger kids, teaches them about reading music. In dance, each group learns the steps for the songs in the show and more. Drama quickly puts the campers on stage learning the lines and actions in the production. 

Ninety-four campers, from elementary age to high schoolers and led by staffers and counselors, are spending their days in Bikini Bottom preparing for this weekend’s productions of “The SpongeBob Musical Youth Edition.” The shows are open to the public at no charge Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.

“It’s very impressive seeing them put a show together in two weeks,” said Benton Donahue, the music assistant.

The first week is learning the songs, dances and action on stage while “week two is just polishing,” said the Ole Miss sophomore  in his third year as an instructor.

Recent Madison Central graduate Omari Daniels is part of camp for the first time as a group counselor. “It’s a great opportunity for younger kids to express their theater side,” said the veteran of MC’s show choir. “I’m having a great time.

“Coming in, I thought two weeks wasn’t enough to get a show together. These kids are ready to engage in theater, ready to sing and ready to dance.”

Putting a complete show together in two weeks involves a lot of moving parts.

Brittnye Aven, the chairman of the visual and performing arts department at MRA, is  the director of the show and drama teacher. Planning for the production began months ago with the selection of the SpongeBob musical.  What makes it all work – in addition to providing a fun experience for the campers – is the trust and friendship among the staff, she said. Campers also are passionate about what they’re learning, and that is contagious, Aven said.

“The caliber of experience in the staff and the trust we have in each other works,” Aven said, adding she trusts the different teachers to prepare the campers in their songs and dances. 

“The kids we cast as leads are mini-professionals,” said Aven who has worked with the Summer Arts Camp for 19 years.  “We trust them to go home and continue working.”

Miles Agent, who plays SpongeBob, said he came home the first night of camp running through his lines. “Every night before I go to bed, I go through the whole show. You’ve got to do the work but it’s worth it.”

Landing the role of SpongeBob was exciting for Agent, an eighth-grader at Madison Middle School who has attended camp for four years. “I love the people here and love the staff. I love putting a show together. Seeing the show come together is very rewarding.  We are all having fun. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the main cast or not.”

At this camp, everyone gets the chance to shine.

“Everybody gets a feature moment on stage in the lights. We make sure that happens,” Aven said.

Over the years, campers return annually until they age out, and then many of them return as staff if they can. Friendships and love for the arts keeps everyone coming back. 

Rowan Gentry, a sophomore at Ole Miss, has been a part of Summer Arts Camp for 10 years, as a camper and now a counselor. “I found my love for the theater and dance here,” she said. “I love seeing the campers now fall in love with it like I did.”

Sigrid Wise, began camp as a 7-year-old and now she is in her sixth year as the theater arts teacher. An actress in New York, Wise said her the experiences as a camper and on staff keep bringing her back. “The community, the people, everyone has such a good attitude. We all want the same thing – a good production, good art.”

Wise said she had so much fun at camp that she wants to make sure today’s campers find the joy in all of it. “I love being able to make the day as fun as possible.”  

While the campers are having fun, they are using the games and exercises she introduces to build an ensemble that works together, Wise said. “I always make sure they understand they are building a community that can go far. They’re growing together.”

University of Alabama senior Miller Widemire, an eight-year veteran camper now in her fourth year as the assistant dance instructor, loves the whole experience.  “I come back for the camaraderie, the camp traditions. We’re a family that keeps coming back.”

 No matter what a camper’s role in the show is, the staff wants everyone to be a vital part of the production, she said. “Everybody has an integral part of making the show. They want you to have your moment to shine. They never make you feel any less important. The responsibility you get, they know you can handle it.”

The fun for counselors and staff is sharing their passion with campers for dance, music, drama or anything else involved in creating SpongeBob and his home in Bikini Bottom.

“Even if the campers have never taken a music or dance class, they’re in tune and wanting to do their best,” Widemire said.  “You can actually see their progress each day. It’s kind of amazing to see how they catch on. You get to share your passion and see them take hold of it for themselves.”

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