Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress
With eyes clenched tightly closed they navigated the auditorium, guided by a partner with hands resting lightly on their shoulders. They would stop occasionally to touch the slick wood of the stage floor, or run their hands over the nubby upholstery on the theater seats.
"Change!" yelled Evelyn McLane and eyes flew open as the "blind" changed places with their guide and the exercise resumed.
It was just another morning at "Stars on Stage" drama camp at Jacksonville College, where routine is anything but ordinary.
The annual two-week drama camp drew 18 participants from ages 8 to 18. McLane serves as director of the camp this year, a position she's held at various times since the camp's inception in 2006.
"I believe training in theater prepares you for every walk in life, every experience," McLane said. "Theater training is life training."
Learning to speak in front of people, carry yourself well and, perhaps most importantly, build confidence, are things you can learn through theater, McLane said.
Wednesday's "blind" exercise was part of a sensory experience taught to help campers learn to build their on-stage characters. Throughout the day, they engaged all of their senses. Another partner exercise called for each partner to observe each other, then turn their backs to each other, change three things about their appearance, and turn back around for the partner to note what was different.
"Things we know, things we observe, we can build into our characters," McLane said.
Emma Gibbons, 8, and Ariana Morris, 14, have attended the camp for several years.
"I've been coming since I was 6," Emma explained.
Through her experiences at drama camp, Emma said she's learned to be loud, while Ariana said the camp has helped build her confidence.
"I feel like, 'I can do this,'" she said.
Both girls have put their newfound skills to the test in school plays and productions – Emma at Chandler Elementary and Ariana at Jacksonville Christian. They both love the games and exercises taught at camp and they both adore the counselors, most of whom are former campers themselves and students at Jacksonville College.
"It's just fun. I love it here," Emma said.
The theme of the camp each year is "Transform-ing the World Through Theater." Each summer, campers are introduced to a different culture. This year, the camp focuses on Ireland.
The experience culminates in a show, open to the public on Sat., July 6 at 6 p.m., called "Once Upon A Leprechaun," an interpretation of three Iris folk legends complete with Irish dancing.
"It's a lot of fun," McLane promised.