Theatre Camp at The New Century School is always a smash hit, thanks to the wonderful Alex Hewett, instructor, counselor, actor, and all-around arteest. For several years running, Ms. Hewett has shared her enormous talents with TNCS and students from all around Baltimore City during the summer. (To read more about Ms. Hewett’s contributions and background, read Summertime Theatrics: Drama Camp at TNCS and TNCS Drama Camp Brings Out Kids’ Inner Artists.)
This year’s concept sprang from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, a book about a 10-year-old boy named Auggie who suffers an unnamed facial deformity. Auggie’s painful story unfolds to reveal the wonder of human relationships when kindness is the lodestar guiding them. Because Auggie’s appearance invites stares and unpleasant reactions from strangers, his parents homeschool until 5th grade, when they decide it’s time for Auggie to face (literally) the world and his place in it.
“The story resonated with her students,” says Ms. Hewett, “because although none of them have a deformity like Auggie’s, they all know what it’s like to confront and overcome obstacles.” Even during camp, situations arose that required students to think about how their words and actions were affecting others and choose a better, kinder way. Ms. Hewett’s camp has three precepts: One, be kind. Two, be kind. Three, be kind.
Besides the theme of this year’s camp, other aspects are different from past theatre camps as well. This time, much of the dramatizing is spontaneous, improvised from listening to Ms. Hewett read passages of the book aloud. “I like that because it means the students are helping with how we are structuring everything,” she explained. This approach allows for a little more “chaos” than a scripted approach would, but it also demands that students truly internalize the message to reproduce it. With a script, explained Ms. Hewett, students are learning to memorize their lines without necessarily grappling with the ideas contained within those lines. “Creativity shouldn’t be organized.”
To further deepen their understanding, they also integrated visual art as well as song and dance (“Wonder” by Natalie Merchant). The results were pretty amazing. Students really “got it,” so it’s no stretch to imagine that they will apply the lessons they have learned in their future daily interactions.
In addition to acting, students also practiced the practical side of stagecraft. They were asked to “strike” and re-set the stage, as they performed scenes from Wonder in multiple settings—such as a school lunchroom and a forest. One of the most ingenious facets of Ms. Hewett’s theatre camp is how she uses what she has, something every good actor understands—they must be able to roll with it to keep a scene afloat. The show must go on. Another important point is that every role is critical to the show’s success. “Even if you’re in charge of turning on the lights or building sets or you’re the Lead Technical Artist, your contribution is essential to the performance” said Ms. Hewett.
Thus, Ms. Hewett, with only 5 days to create, learn, rehearse, and outfit a play, used the TNCS Imagination Playground for props. Note how a cafeteria table becomes a tree in the forest.
Ms. Hewett says the students “blew [her] away.” To be a part of this collaboration, they had to be comfortable with some initial disarray. “Being creative can be frustrating,” she said, “and you have disasters and things break. But then things come together, and I think that’s how you learn.”
As always, theatre camp at TNCS is a wonder-ful thing.