After two years away, CSU summer theatre camp shows that Kids (still) Do It All

Kids Do It All
Participants at the Kids Do It All Summer Theatre Camp rehearse before their show. Photos by John Eisele/CSU

Imagine putting together an entire musical everything from writing, choreographing, staging and performing – in just one week. It may sound daunting, but participants in Colorado State University’s Kids Do It All Theatre Camp do just that and more.

“It’s amazing to see them do this each week,” said Debbie Swann, CSU theatre senior instructor and director for the KDIA program based out of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance. “And it reminds me why theatre, and especially theatre education, for young people is so important.” 

Since 2011, the week-long summer camp has given kids a place to try out every aspect of the creative process – from costuming and set design to songwriting and choreography – leading up to a final performance for friends and family. But the camp isn’t about trying to grow the next great playwright or musical theatre ingenue.

Saying ‘yes, and’

Just like the rule of saying “yes, and…” in improv, KDIA is about the collaborative process, Swann said.

“Here, they’re learning how collaboration works better when we aren’t trying to talk over each other to get our ideas heard, but by building on other people’s ideas and working as a collective to try to make those ideas bigger and better,” she said. “That’s a life lesson that’s especially important in our modern world of the individual because theatre, like any collaborative art form, is all about the ensemble.”

kids do it all summer theatre camp
A Kids Do It All camper works on a program for their upcoming show, The Road to El Dorito.

From the first day of camp, the students worked together, whether it was brainstorming story plots or casting roles, said 10-year-old Evan Godenitz, who was participating in KDIA for the first time.

While the acting part wasn’t difficult, Godenitz said it was exciting to try out other parts of the creative process, particularly writing the script.  

In the production, The Road to El Dorito, Godenitz plays the role of an intrepid explorer of the cheese jungle in search of the great treasure El Dorito. In the story, the drama unfolds when the explorers happen upon a group of “cheeple.”

“Cheese people,” Godenitz explained.

And just like in the play, where the characters have to learn to work together, so too do the participants of KDIA. The group talked out every element of the story – voting to make final decisions. 

“Usually in plays we get a script, we practice it at home, we learn the choreography and stuff, and then we’d just do the play,” Godenitz said. “This has been really busy, but really fun, too.”

An education for older ‘kids,’ too

The camp is also an opportunity for CSU students, such as theatre performance major Charlie Williamson, who want to get hands-on experience working in theatre education.

“This is what I would like to do with my entire life, and so it’s been great for me, especially coming out of COVID when there weren’t a whole lot of performance opportunities or theatre education opportunities,” Williamson said. “KDIA has helped reignite my excitement for what I want to do with my life and working with kids.”

For recent CSU theatre performance graduate Tre Coleman, being a KDIA counselor was a chance to share his love for the stage with the next generation. It was also a way to impart a few life lessons.

“When you forget your lines or get a little stage fright, the show has to keep going,” Coleman said.

The benefits of art

kids do it all summer theatre camp
Kids Do It All campers work on set designs for their upcoming production.

For Swann, the KDIA camp has shown the enduring power of the arts, particularly in this first year back after the pandemic. The popular program was even more so this summer with families eager to return to the camp and a semblance of normal. The 275 enrollment spots that opened in January were filled with a waiting list by the first week of May.

“The arts enrich our lives,” she said. “We create and consume art for the catharsis, for the mental health benefits, for the social interaction with our world and our communities. So I’m also just hoping to create a generation of art and theatre lovers.”