Though many businesses and summer activities have slowed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Stuart’s Opera House is keeping its Performing Arts Camp alive and well this summer.

Every year, Stuart’s hosts a performing arts camp for children between the ages of 12 and 18. The camp spans over six weeks, with two weeks dedicated to each area of performing arts: theater, dance and music. Kids can participate in as many weeks of the camp as they want — as little as one or as many as the full six.

The camp has been around for about five years. Instead of canceling, Stuart’s decided to host a virtual version of the summer camp to promote social distancing guidelines and general well-being. 

Ginger Gagne, summer camp program coordinator for performing arts of Stuart’s Opera House, loves building a rapport with students and making them feel comfortable before sending them to their instructors. But this year’s online format will certainly make things different. However, she’s still looking forward to seeing this summer’s group of kids. 

“It really encouraged students to express themselves and be their authentic self,” Gagne said. “We’re really … a safe space for kids to ask questions, get answers and learn how to be an ally.” 

Gagne knows though the kids have the opportunity to participate in activities like songwriting, playwriting, movement through dance and more, it’s also a great place for them to discover themselves and have an open dialogue with the instructors and other students involved. 

The first two weeks (July 6-10 and July 13-17) will focus on theater, and instructor Skye Robinson Hillis will workshop theatrical movements and teach students about expressing themselves. The next two weeks (July 20-24 and July 27-31) will hone in on dance. Led by instructor Angelica Bell, the dance weeks will work on creative movements while incorporating current events into the movements. The final two weeks (Aug. 3-7 and Aug. 10-14) will focus on music, led by instructor Adam Remnant, and students will learn about songwriting and performing. 

Remnant feels the arts and creativity are one of the healthiest ways to cope with challenges, so he loves that he is able to assist with providing an outlet for students and a little bit of a mental break from the stress of the pandemic. 

“I’m really jealous that these types of art offerings weren’t around when I was growing up,” Remnant said in an email. “One of the great things about the arts programming at Stuart’s is that their programs reflect the joy and experience of the arts more than anything. The focus is less on acquiring skills, although that is a part of it, but we focus more on the collaboration and creativity that the arts possess.”

Though the virtual component seems to pose some challenges, the camp’s staff feels it may have even opened the camp opportunity up to some students who don’t live close enough to participate in person or don’t have the means to get to the camp.

Other challenges brought on by the virtual component have been adapted to. For example, students without instruments will be provided for by the Southeast Ohio Musical Lending Library, where they can borrow an instrument, and then when the student is finished, the instrument is returned, cleaned and quarantined for five days. 

The staff of Stuart’s Opera House has always put a huge emphasis on arts education and community outreach: from bussing students in to see shows to hosting annual record sales. The annual Performing Arts Camp for kids is no exception. 

Emily Prince, education director at Stuart’s, said when the opera house reopened in 1997, they wanted to bring back the connection with people in the area.

“The way that we felt would be a good way to do that was to do arts education and getting local students and young people into the Opera House, so that they understood that it was their place as well,” Prince said. 

The camp’s staff and instructors are paid. Though there is no set fee required to participate in the camp, those who are able to are asked to make a donation to Stuart’s. Gagne, Prince and Remnant think students should come and enjoy the camp because it will be an easy, fun experience that could help to showcase their authentic selves and provide an unforgettable summer experience. 

“What’s different about ours (camp) is our focus isn’t on … conservatory style training,” Prince said. “It’s using the arts as a means to build community value. The kids come for getting to be in a rock band, but they stay for the value. And we value the kids in our program; wherever they are, whatever they bring, you don’t have to have art experience. You don’t have to be the best at playing a song, but you’re valued for trying.” 

To register for the summer arts camp, visit the Stuart’s Opera House website