Arts summer camps in the suburbs adapt to pandemic rules
Organizations that run art and performance summer camps have had to adapt amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many have shifted and developed online-only courses, while a few are trying out in-person interactions that adhere to social distancing safety measures.
Improv Playhouse in Libertyville is covering all bases with a mixture of virtual and in-person offerings. Courses are in musical theater, comedy and filmmaking.
"We're maintaining and have maintained the guidance given to us by the National American Camp Association, with which we are accredited, and have as well followed the guidance of the state of Illinois," said David Stuart, founding executive director of Improv Playhouse.
That means that in-person class sizes have been reduced to 8 to 15 students (down from a normal of about 30 for the musical theater programs). Stuart also says there has been a shift to move more activities outdoors.
Improv Playhouse has also developed a "CampToYou" option with extra craft-making and science courses. Improv Playhouse sends a staff member to a host home with a maximum of six children for a weeklong camp.
By contrast, Libertyville's Adler Arts Center only offers online summer camps that were developed in consultations with teachers and prior students.
"We had to think of the limitations of our historic building," said program director Molly Bunder about the Adler's "notoriously small classrooms." Bunder also said Adler's instructors learned from the initial online classes created as a response to the lockdown in March.
"What we've come up with is an online camp experience that has some Zoom classroom elements that ends in fun challenges for students to do away from the screen," Bunder said.
"Part of it is a taught class, but part of it is setting students up for success to make things on their own at home so they don't have to be inside all summer long."
And in order to foster community among students, the Adler allows some unstructured time for kids to visit with their classmates online. There's also plans for art and poetry installations featuring homemade crafts that are combined into large-scale pieces that can be publicly visited with proper social distancing.
BAMtheatre in Hinsdale has adapted classes in improv, choreography and even show choir into virtual forms.
"We see these 'BAM @ A Distance' classes to continue on into the future even when quarantine has been lifted," said BAMtheatre managing director Jena Sugai. "We recognize that there are a group of students who might prefer this style of learning."
Sugai said the shift to online has also forced students to be more tech-savvy. She says it's helpful for performers to be their own digital content creators or learn how to create a polished "self-tape" audition video.
The shift to online-only teaching for BAMtheatre in Hinsdale has also allowed the institution to expand its student body, faculty and guest artists with Broadway credits from around the country. The global reach of the internet has also spurred national arts organizations to try out educational summer camps.
For example, The Metropolitan Opera Global Summer Camp is a new eight-week course being offered online for free for students ages 8 to 18 starting Monday, June 15. Each week is dedicated to an opera like "Hansel and Gretel," "The Daughter of the Regiment" or "The Magic Flute."
Along with watching each opera online with English subtitles, there are hands-on activities and interviews with theater artists ranging from musicians to puppeteers.
"We're trying to engage as many kids as we can from around the country," said Sugai about online arts teaching. "We're really expanding the number of people who can access theater at this time."