Spring break theater camp teaches kids about theater, self-expression

For the first week of April, kids from all over Grand Rapids will indulge in all things writing and theater for the Ebony Road Players’ Spring Break Theater Camp.

“It’s kind of a combination of writing and theater,” said Edye Evans Hyde, executive director of Ebony Road. “So they learn a little bit about what theater is, a little theater history.”

There are a variety of theater games to play and writing prompts to inspire that creativity. Led by Instructor and Acting Educational Advisor Darius Colquitt, the group will have a play to perform for their friends and family by the end of the week.

“They will journal, and at the end of that week, Darius will take all the material and put it into a script,” Hyde said. “And on that last day, they will perform a reader’s theater piece. Basically, it’s their work — they wrote it.”

The program started three years ago, beginning with a small day program at Coit Elementary that still goes on. Now, the camp is offered twice a year during spring and summer break.

“Each year since our program's inception has been an altogether rewarding journey that cannot be compared to the last,” Colquitt said. “It's my belief that our children are — or have the capacity to be — brilliant, but it takes a person to recognize the brilliance of a child's abilities before they will fully accept and walk within their gifts.”

In past years, one group would meet at the Ebony Road office, but this year Hyde said she is trying to work with the Boys and Girls Club of America to get a teacher at each of the three locations in Grand Rapids.

“Because school is out during that time, there’s a lot of kids that just go there to have something to do, so we’re going to offer this as an opportunity for them to do something artistic,” Hyde said. “We’ll find out how many students are going to be there, and then offer it to the public. So if there’s people from the outside that want to come in, we’ll be able to do that as well.”

Hyde said it’s fun to watch the kids come in not knowing each other, and by the end of the first day become really good friends. In a quick amount of time, they are able to gain some creative skills, confidence and the satisfaction of completing a project with friends.

The kids work intensely on “their writing skills” and are “able to put what they’re thinking and feeling on paper” and “able to communicate that afterwards because Darius usually has them share their stories,” Hyde said.

In a video produced by Ebony Road from the 2017 camp, a group of kids shared their experiences and what they learned.

“I just like being onstage and performing in front of people,” said Autumn Scott, 13, when asked what her favorite part of camp was.

“A lot of new acting exercises and games that helped me as an actor,” said Zsana Hoskins, 15, about what she learned during the camp.

Others said they learned about theater history, increased their writing and imaginative skills and made new friends in a fun setting with Colquitt, who was described as “funny” and “hilarious” by many of the kids.

“I like that he has a lot of energy and he interacts with the class,” said Alivia Winter, 12. “He’ll help you out when you need help.”

Thanks to sponsorship from the Wege Foundation and community donations, the spring and summer theater camps with Ebony Road are free for all kids.

“This is how you grow a community,” Hyde said. “It’s how you grow a theater community, is getting your kids involved and learning about all these artistic aspects of putting on a theater production.”

Hyde hopes by growing the community of all ages, eventually Ebony Road can put on a children’s production. And by expanding to different parts of the community this year, Hyde is confident in reaching out to children all over the community and bringing in new recruits to the spring break program.

“Even if theater and performance art aren’t within the realm of their foreseeable future, this one-week course is one of the few places I can say I've watched each child leave much more self-aware, communicative, personable, respectful, focused, in-tune with their creative abilities and connected to a network of peers who have had similar experiences yet wildly different walks of life,” Colquitt said. “Our class has always brought about a wide demographic with children of every race, religion and background. This is a place where, when we enter the threshold, we are a family, no matter the similarities or differences.”

Visit ebonyroad.org for more information. To sign your kid up, go online to fill out an application and choose which location your child can attend by March 30.