‘Fame’ and Fortune: How Theater Camp Changed My Life

Young actors holding costume pieces smile and pose for the camera
Photo: iStock

I’ll never forget my first day of summer theater camp. I was 16 years old, obsessed with musicals (despite my lack of singing and dancing prowess) and signed up for a now-defunct program in my hometown. I was extremely nervous! Sixteen was a pretty late age to start going to a camp most kids had been participating in since they were much younger, and I only knew one other camper, so I was flying pretty blind. But at the urging of my extremely supportive mom and dad, as well as my high school drama teacher, I signed up.

At first, I felt lost. All the other kids were so much more confident than I was. They all seemed to be in-the-know about things I had no clue about, like the fact that we had to “audition” in front of everyone—a scary prospect, even though everyone would be cast in a show. I fumbled my way through the audition, singing “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin in the wrong key and starting at the wrong moment. I was mortified, but the fear melted away when all the other kids applauded at the end of the song. I was then cast as an ensemble member in Fame, which would be rehearsed for several weeks and then performed for a public audience.

That small role in Fame changed my life. As we rehearsed for hours on end, I found my dancing skills improving, and I got to know kids who I quickly found were in the same boat as me—kids who were interested in the arts but were previously too shy to do anything about it. The camp director, a college theater major at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, was pretty awesome. She believed every person in the show was equally important and tried to give everyone a moment to shine.

As my theatrical skills sharpened and I made new friends, I also found myself growing in confidence. I came out of the closet as a freshman in high school, and though my family was supportive, I didn’t really tell anyone at school. But at theater camp, I definitely wasn’t the only gay kid, and soon realized I could be myself without fear of reproach or bullying. Even the straight kids were cool with it.

Fame turned out to be a huge success. The audience loved the solid production, which was completely run by campers, from the set to the band. Nearly 16 years later, I still keep in touch with my fellow campers from that amazing summer. We called ourselves the “Famers” for years after. So here’s my advice to you: If your kid wants to sing and dance and be creative, there’s no better opportunity in the summer than theater camp. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have the skills or experience the other kids have. Theater camp changed my life; let your kids feel that magic, too.

East End Summer Theater Camps:

Bay Street Theater (1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor) offers camp programs throughout the summer months. 631-725-0818 ext. 213, baystreet.org

Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach) holds programs for all ages throughout the season. 631-288-1500, whbpac.org

East End Arts School (141 East Main Street, Riverhead) has a Renaissance Children’s Camp, featuring visual art, music and theater. 631-369-2171, eastendarts.org

Guild Hall (158 Main Street, East Hampton) holds summer theater camp annually. 631-324-0806, guildhall.org

Visit our Summer Camp Guide for a listing of local camps, as well as more helpful articles about choosing the right camp and more.

More from Our Sister Sites