In the small town of Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, right in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, lies Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse, a professional regional theatre and a gorgeous place to stay. One of their most recent initiatives has been the formation of Allenberry Professional Theatre Conservatory (APTC), an intensive youth acting camp.
APTC started out small. Though I did not attend the inaugural summer in 2008, I was there in 2009 and for the winter session in 2010. Last summer, APTC was five days long, and the age range was 10-17. We performed APTC Town, a revised, abridged version of Our Town newly based on the town of Boiling Springs, as well as three fully-choreographed song and dance numbers. It was a wonderful experience, but not entirely life-changing.
Summer 2010 was a whole new story. First off, the parameters themselves were very different. The age range was 13-17, which meant everyone was older and able to commit to a more intensive schedule. We were at camp for two full weeks instead of one, and rather than a haphazard combination of works, we were mounting a full-scale show: Guys and Dolls Jr.
The first day, we arrived with our bags in tow and registered. Alumni from sessions past greeted each other enthusiastically and began to catch up, while newbies were introduced and began getting to know the group. We dropped our luggage off in the gorgeous Pine Lodge, our home for the next two weeks, and headed over to Fairfield Hall for lunch. We saw an Allenberry Playhouse mainstage production, which just so happened to feature almost all the staff for our camp. After a talkback, some short time to unpack, and dinner, we jumped right into learning our dance audition piece for the next day. It was the start to an unforgettable adventure.
When I had heard that we were going to prepare a full show in only two weeks, I didn’t think we would have time to do anything else. I was more wrong than I can say. We did do Guys and Dolls – from auditions to blocking to music rehearsals to choreography to rigorous stage combat rehearsals to costume fittings to lights and sound to hair and make-up, the show was the real deal. And it was fantastic.
But what made APTC so incredible was how much else we did. On top of the show, we had a crash course in Linklater relaxation voice-freeing techniques, learned “viewpoints,” took dance master classes, practiced and performed alternate scenes, practiced improvisation, and saw APTC’s children’s show performed by our staff members, Snow White. Outside theatre, we also had a pool night, watched a movie in the theatre, had a bonfire costume party, and tie-dyed tee-shirts.
But more than any of that, the37 of us got to know each other and made connections in ways I never thought possible. There was one particular exercise we did every day: Osho. In a nutshell, Osho involves building up energy, releasing it in whatever way works for you, coming back together as a group, freezing and reconnecting with yourself, and finally hugging it out and dancing. It’s an emotional acceptance and release. At first Osho seemed odd; nobody was quite connecting with it and it didn’t have much of an emotional impact on anyone. We hugged quickly at the end and then almost immediately moved to dancing around. But as we spent more time together and let our emotions float closer to the surface, let down our barriers and began to trust each other, Osho became the most important part of the day for many of us. There were several days when almost everyone was in tears, and we would sit around in a circle for half an hour afterwards, hugging and leaning on each other, just offering support, not willing or entirely able to move on to anything else. The hugs at the end of the exercise became unbelievably powerful. We stopped dancing at all, because no one wanted to quit hugging until they had connected with each and every person in the room and acknowledged that they were there for them. We were a family.
That’s not to say it was a perfect experience. APTC was a camp full of emotional, hormonal teenagers. There were rumors, break-ups, crushes, fights, rule-breaking bouts. There was homesickness for some, countless emotional breakdowns, the director’s raw disappointment at some of our behavior, and more tears than I knew could fall over the course of two weeks.
But there was also advice given, friendships formed, and lessons learned. There were outbursts of hysterical laughter and pranks pulled at mealtime. There was a girl chugging a bottle of Amp in ten seconds, after which the concession stand was no longer allowed to sell us energy drinks. There was a power outage, and thunder and lightning coming just as two campers performed the most intense, real acting I’d ever seen either of them do. There was the moment when the concept behind viewpoints exercises clicked in each individual’s mind, and suddenly watching them was almost magical. There was hearing the love story behind our married music director and choreographer’s relationship – and having him sing and play us the proposal song he wrote for her. There was the bonfire dance party, the only place where a group of teenagers would actually cheer and start dancing when a High School Musical song came on, because half of us had been in the show together the winter before. There was laughing through tears and crying through laughter. But more than anything else, there was LOVE.
APTC wasn’t just an acting camp, though it certainly taught us all a lot as performers. It was a raw, intense, self-awareness-inducing, life-changing experience. I miss it, the people and the places, the good and the bad, with every fiber of my being.
Next year they’re doing a three week camp, with three different shows rehearsing at once. I can’t imagine the emotional drain it’ll cause, the drama that’ll occur, and how exhausted I’ll be…
And I can’t wait to go back.