Camp Ernst Middle School in Burlington has hosted one-week-long summer theater camps for several years in Northern Kentucky.
This year, there are two in June for middle school students and two in July for elementary school students. By the end of April both middle school sessions, each with a capacity for 35 campers, were full.
“I have 15 kids on a wait list right now,” said camp director Karen Wiebe. “I’ll probably have to open another middle school session next year.”
Attending summer camps has been a childhood pastime for decades. Dozens of movies have been made about them, including "Camp Rock," "Camp Nowhere," and the 1979 classic, "Meatballs." While day and overnight nature camps, athletic camps and academic camps have been staples for years, theater camps are just as popular today, especially in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
“The arts are thriving in this area. People are really invested in them, which has helped create quite an interest in theater camps,” said Katey Blood, a local actress and an instructor this summer at the Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre (CYPT) Prep program drama camp in West Price Hill.
Finding summer theater camps in different parts of the region can be tricky since each is its own entity. To help address that issue, Janet Cain, whose husband is a national theater critic and whose seventh-grade daughter has performed in several local productions, built the website cincytheaterkids.com.
Information on area summer camps is just part of the site. It also provides a comprehensive list of locations and dates for local performances, auditions, competitions, scholarships and dance, acting and vocal lessons.
“In 2014, while she was in the fourth and fifth grades, my daughter was in five local shows with four different theater groups,” Cain said. “Someone asked me how I found out about the auditions, and I said I had to go to each one’s website.”
When someone suggested to Cain that she start a website to consolidate all local theater information, she decided to do it. She pays for it herself and does not accept advertising.
“It gets between 100 and 200 views a day,” Cain said, “so I know the people who know about it are using it.”
The site lists more than 100 summer camp sessions in three dozen area locations. Most camps are open to any students and teach basic elements in acting, singing and dance. Some are performance-based and require auditions in order to be accepted. Prices range from less than $100 to more than $1,000, depending on the type and length of the camp. Some camps offer scholarships and discounts.
For example, Camp Martweenie at the Stained Glass Theatre in Newport, run by actress Emily Carroll-Martin, features three camps: a one-week K-3 mini-camp ($100), a two-week Intro to Theater camp for students in grades 3-8 ($220) and a three-week Full Production camp for grades 4-10 ($350). Using the coupon code “quick30,” campers can register for 30 percent off.
“There weren’t any theater camps when I was a kid. They didn’t even do musicals at my school when I was there,” said Carroll-Martin, who grew up in Fort Thomas and is in her third year running her camps. “But times are different today. Not all kids are going to be athletes, and they are looking for alternatives. The arts are supported in this area, and it’s making camps like these very popular.”
The one-week CYPT drama camp, which Blood has been involved with for four years, attracts 35 to 45 students each summer.
“We get a good mix of kids,” Blood said. “You have some who aren’t into sports or connected to other activities, so they think maybe theater is something they would like. For $100 for a week, what do they have to lose? We also have kids who are already into theater and want additional training. They want to get as much theater as they can.”
Wiebe, whose first session at Camp Ernst starts June 6, expects interest in summer theater camps will continue to flourish.
“There’s a growth in interest and a growth in sheer talent,” Wiebe said. “These kids want to be a part of something, and I love that there are camps for those who need this creative outlet.”