I never went to sleepaway camp. It is funny because I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, which is chock-full of camps in forests with lots of trees and bodies of water for kayaking and paddle-boarding.
Maybe I never went because my older brothers were banned from Camp Orchard Hill in my hometown after they demolished two of the organization’s brand-new go-karts. (Which was actually really funny and not as terrifying as it sounds.) Perhaps my perspective of sleepaway camp was tainted after I dropped my brothers off at Camp Woodward in Lancaster and visited the bunk rooms of the bikers and roller bladers, which reeked of sweat. Or maybe it is because my brother shattered his tooth on his bicycle handle one summer there, and I didn’t want to have my own catastrophic trip to the dentist while being away from home.
I did have my fair share of summer day camps, though, learning about constellations in science camp, mixing potions in wizardry camp, and even smashing geodes in rock camp.
The closest thing to a sleepaway summer camp that I ever experienced was an acting bootcamp for kids. I traded the great outdoors and star-gazing for the twinkly lights of Times Square, and stayed in a hotel with my gracious mother for a whole week when I was 12 years old. Instead of playing capture the flag, activities included memorizing commercial copy and mastering the art of audition tapes. (And making some pretty great memories with my mama.)
In high school I witnessed the true merit of sleepaway summer camp when one of my best friends demonstrated her ability to change her bra and underwear all without taking off her clothes while we prepped backstage for the annual dance recital at school. She also can french braid her own hair and tie a cherry stem with her tongue, all skills perfected by many summers spent at Camp Kresge in the Pocono Mountains.
This weekend, I feel like I’m finally getting a real camp experience. I’ll be venturing to Waterford, Connecticut for the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. I’ve packed plenty of bug spray, a pair of boat shoes, and saved my dentist's number in my phone. I might be sharing a room with a stranger and there will be a communal bathroom. And while I don’t think there will be s’mores or Kumbaya around a fire, there might be titillating games like “Name That Theatre Critic,” or we might win prizes for filing reviews in a timely manner. And I’m excited.
Whatever these two weeks have in store, I’m trying to not worry about my non-critical nature or think about all the things in the theatre field that I don’t know yet. And I’m trying to get over my bad case of imposter syndrome. I plan to go into this experience knowing that I have a lot to learn—and institutes are for learning, right?
Who knows, in addition to coming back more opinionated I might even learn how to tie a cherry stem on my tongue.