Christina Varnes, the winner of our Women’s Expo drawing for a week of Summer Theatre Camp. We are so looking forward to playing together!
It’s here: Summer. Lightning bugs. The smell of fresh mown grass, the tinkling sound of the ice cream truck, birds singing and kids playing in the pool. It’s as if time expands and takes a deep breath before hurdling us towards fall.
My only summer camp experience as a kid was attending a weeklong sleep away camp north of Seattle. Our days were tightly structured. At night, we slept in small cabins and listened to the sound of the bullfrogs in the woods. Everything about it seemed foreign – the food, the counselors, the other campers, the activities.
I drew on those memories to write a play about a girl who doesn’t want to go to camp but, because of her family situation, is sent to camp anyway. She confronts her fears and – with a little bit of magic – learns to swim.
The title of the play is CAMP NIZHONI and it has a large cast -15 teenagers (!) with lots of physical action. “Nizhoni” is Navajo for “beautiful” – something many teen-age girls secretly (or not so secretly) fear they’re not – and something that every teen-age girl I’ve ever had the good fortune to teach, actually is.
Now – as to this section of the play -just picture a lot of girls arriving for the first day of camp. Some have been there before, some have not. To the campers, the Counselors seem to be very old and mature – when the reality is that they are just a few years older than the Campers themselves. Oh, yes – and it’s set in the year 1969, before cell phones, texting and instant messages aka The Dark Ages. Fancy that.
SCENE ONE: JULY. CAMP NIZHONI, A RUSTIC SUMMER CAMP FOR GIRLS ON A LAKE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
Lights up on the stage. A sign has arrows that point in different directions: Cabins, Lake, Infirmary, Boat House, Showers, Bear Cave, etc. There are woods in the background. A portion of the exterior of one cabin can be seen stage left. A “morning bell” hangs from the exterior, or is located on a separate pole.
As three campers sing the “Camp Nizhoni” chorus, other campers come on stage with all the hustle bustle excitement of the first day. Some girls are chasing each other, some are lugging their suitcases, others are greeting each other enthusiastically – most of them have not seen each other for a year. One girl crosses the area on short stilts. Another girl (Mary Anne) stands crying, apparently already homesick. Melissa plays a kazoo.
Camp Counselor Teresa Hayes and her Counselor in training (CIT) Meg Phillips enter. Teresa has a clipboard. Meg is an over-eager take charge side-kick. Both Meg and Teresa wear a “woodsy” style name tag and shirts that say “Staff” on the back.
TERESA : All right, hello everyone! Gather round – could you all gather round? Linda, Paige, Darleen – enough singing, I want to see your eyes up here! Everybody who can see me, hold up your arms! Thank you! You can put your arms down. Look at all of you! It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year already.
MELISSA: I’ve been looking forward to this ever since last summer! This is my favorite place to be!
TERESA: Mine too, Melissa. Mary Ann, why are you crying?
MARY ANN: I want to go home!
TERESA: And you will. In six weeks.
Mary Ann lets out a wail. One of the girls nearest her gives her some comfort.
TERESA (cont) : I see lots of familiar faces –
Melissa starts to play “Be kind to your web footed friends” on her kazoo.
MELISSA: Remember Teresa – from last year?
TERESA: I certainly do. And I was hoping you would have lost that kazoo by now. Please put it away. Melissa starts to blow on it again. Melissa! I’m glad you’re so musical – but later, okay? Thank you. I also see a few new faces. Who’s here for the very first time? Three girls raise their hands. Welcome! We’ll get around to introductions in a moment, but –
CRYSTAL: (bursting in, eager to display her knowledge) My name is Crystal Watson and technically this isn’t really my first time, my sister went here, she’s four years older than I am and really smart and I came with my parents to pick her up one summer and she always told me what a great place this is even if there are all kind of bugs and bears.
MARY ANN: Bears?!!
TERESA: Well, we are in the woods and that’s where bears live, but the bears are more afraid of you than you are of them.
MARY ANN: Nu-uh!
CRYSTAL: My sister said you don’t have to worry about the bear because the bear is really afraid of the monster of the lake who shows up when the moon is full.
LORI: What a bunch of bull -(catching herself) uh – hockey.
PAIGE: Has anyone ever seen it?
DARLEEN: (to Shelly) I don’t believe in ghosts – do you?
LORI: (making mocking ghost noises) “Ohhhhh – ohhhhhhh – my sister told me there’s a ghost -“
TERESA: All right, all right –
MELISSA: Teresa, I thought you told us it wasn’t a monster, it’s a spirit of an Indian brave who swam out to save his daughter and-
JULIE: Admit it – this is just another one of those stupid stories you counselors like to tell to scare new campers.
TERESA: Don’t be so sure it’s just a story.
MARY ANN: (nervous) Can we stop talking about this now?
TERESA: All right, okay, we’ll get around to all of our camp legends and traditions later. Right now let me introduce Meg. Meg is a Counselor in Training this year so I expect all of you to respect her authority. Meg, do you want to say a few words?
MEG (glad to take charge) Yes! Here is the order of the day. At 7:00 AM you will hear a wake up bell. 7:30 – breakfast. 8:45 to 12:45 there will be swimming, canoeing, diving, art, drama, archery, softball, nature, a zip line and our very own specially designed rock climbing gym.
SHELLY: What’s a climbing gym?
MEG: You’ll see. Snacks are at 10:45, lunch is at 1:00. Free swim from 3:00 to 3:45. 3:45 to 5:45 activities continued. Supper is at 6:30. In the evening we will have games and entertainment. We will have one overnight canoe trip where we’ll sleep in tents.
MEG: Please hold your questions until the end. Later in the session we will have a talent show and I hope you all participate. And since we’re fortunate to have the boys from Camp Waccama join us for an evening, there will be a dance.
MELISSA: (blowing into her kazoo) Camp Waccama is the boy’s camp from across the lake! Hooray!
DARLEEN: It’s filled with cute guys!
PAIGE: Really cute!!!
ALL GIRLS: Boys!!! Boys will be coming HERE!!! BOYS!!!!!
CRYSTAL: My sister didn’t tell me about that!
MARY ANN: I didn’t bring the right kind of clothes.
JULIE: Anyone wanting fashion advice –
TERESA: SETTLE DOWN! Everyone! Honestly!
PAIGE: I love boys!
TERESA: Meg, go ahead.
MEG: Taps is at 10. Lights out means lights out. Okay, now. Any questions?
SHELLY: Is it too late for my Mom to get her money back?
TERESA: I know it’s a little overwhelming when you first arrive – but once we get into the swing of things you’ll understand why Camp Nizhoni has been helping young ladies gain confidence and reach their potential –
LINDA AND PAIGE: “-in a positive, fun filled environment since 1920.” That’s from the brochure!
TERESA: And if all of you were listening to that schedule, you know we have a lot of activities on the lake. One of the first things we need to do is find out how well you swim. Are you a minnow, a fish, a flying fish or a shark? Ladies, please finish putting your suitcases away, put your swim suits on and meet me down at the dock.
MEG: (blowing a whistle) Everybody! Be at the dock in five minutes!!!!
We’re also jumping into the deep end of the pool as we gear up for our Summer Theatre Camps in July: Acting Skills, On Camera Acting and Adult Acting Camp. It’s not too late to put on your suit and join us!
What memories do you have of Summer Camps? Care to share a few?