by Morgan Yeatts
Summers at the Academy Center of the Arts are filled with excellent opportunities for the community to experience and participate in the arts, whether that be through concerts, classes, or camps.
For years, the Academy has offered a summer theatre camp for high schoolers, Encore!, which gives campers the chance to spend entire days participating in master classes while building a product from the ground up, all in one month’s time.
The camp is always a community favorite, and this year is no exception. The 29 enrolled students are currently finishing up rehearsals for their 2018 production of Once On This Island, a Broadway musical from 1990, whose 2017 revival was met with rave reviews and Tony Award nominations, winning Best Revival of a Musical.
Michelle Velastegui, 7-year director of Encore!, relishes the experience to work with high schoolers from the community who share her love and passion for theatre. Her desire is for the campers to leave this experience with a better knowledge of all aspects of the theatre. “I hope they learn confidence and team building and that it’s more than just a performance,” she says.
When asked why she thinks art camps for young people are important to the community, Michelle states that “the earlier we can instill a desire and a love for the arts, it grows the community as a whole. Also, [these camps] teach kids at an early age to break the barrier of awkwardness and fear of speaking and performing in front of people. I just think that it builds community, but it also builds within kids a sense of strength and power…that’s what art does”.
The Encore! campers are a melting pot of kids from high schools throughout Lynchburg and the surrounding areas with varying levels of experience in theatre. Crystal Haley, 17, who plays the main character of the show, Ti Moune, has been actively involved in theatre since 7th grade, but this is her first summer at Encore!. She attended last summer’s production of West Side Story and immediately knew she wanted to get involved. Crystal also noted that the scholarships that the ACOA offers for campers were one of the reasons she was able to participate in the camp. As a newcomer to Encore!, she had nothing but positive feedback about her experience.
For another first time Encore! camper, Emma Donohue, 18, who plays Erzulie, Goddess of Love, this experience has played a crucial part in overcoming her fear of singing in public. She saw this camp as an opportunity, not only to participate in the creation of a production, and a chance to be surrounded by peers who share a love of theatre, but as a safe place to overcome this obstacle.
Encore! veteran, Aaron Hall, 17, plays Daniel, another lead role. This year is his 5th with the camp and every year, he takes away something new from the experience. This year, in particular, he has had the opportunity to hold a leadership role as Dance Captain for the production. He’s loved this opportunity to learn “how to lead and teach others” and also “how to work with people well”.
Come view the final product of the campers’ hard work this past month and enjoy the complex story, upbeat music, and sand filled stage. The production runs July 6-8 at 7pm, with matinees on the 7th and 8th at 2pm.