UWF in the Community

UWF Shakespeare Summer Camp helps kids learn “to be”

It’s difficult not to steal a line from Shakespeare to describe a theater-themed summer camp – especially when teenage students in an improv class keep shouting the Bard’s words themselves.

“To be or not to be,” repeats each student, one after another, emphatically and enthusiastically, and, well, theatrically. Under the direction of Shar Gabriel, actor and choreographer from Los Angeles, the students form a standing circle while improving during the summer camp at the University of West Florida.

“I love this – it’s so much fun,” says Gary Lamb, as he observes the class. Lamb, a 25-year veteran actor and sometimes acting teacher based in Los Angeles, is artistic director of the Crown City Theatre Company in Pasadena, Calif. But for the past couple of weeks, he’s been in Pensacola working with Shakespeare Summer Company, a summer camp for kids at UWF.

Kevin Kern, UWF assistant professor of theatre, invited both Lamb and Gabriel to help with the camp, in its second year, and its 45 participants, ages 10 to 16. Kern is also artistic director of the Pensacola Shakespeare Theatre, which will open its first season later this month at the UWF Center for Fine and Performing Art Mainstage Theatre.

The UWF theater camp is not just for students interested in acting on Broadway someday. “It is great for building confidence,” said Kern. Participants work on a variety of skills including communication, problem-solving, team work, time management, deadlines and flexibility.

“They learn skills that they can apply in whatever career they may choose,” Lamb added. “But we help strengthen their confidence and to be comfortable out in front of people or to be the center of attention. Some are a bit shy or quiet, and these classes can help them come out their shell. It is really something to watch the confidence grow each day.”

But wait, Shakespeare? Isn’t Shakespeare – with his sonnets, his soliloquies, his iambic pentameter — a bit much for kids at a short summer camp?

“The students do not know to be afraid of Shakespeare; they do not know that it can be difficult to read or to understand. So we gradually introduce Shakespeare’s language and then the text and they just tear into it,” said Kern.

The theater camp concluded July 30 with an abbreviated production of “The Tempest.” Playing the lead, Prospero, was Yenny Wu, an 8th grader at Sacred Heart Cathedral School. She says she’s enjoying the camp. Her favorite part? Improv.

“I’ve made friends with everybody here, but wish I could bring all my friends from school here, too,” she said. “It’s kind of like school, but fun with all different subjects.”

For more information on UWF Explore Summer programs, e-mail Jennifer Edge, Explore Summer director at the Division of Continuing Education, at jedge@uwf.edu or visit uwf.edu/explorecamps or uwf.edu/explorecamps/drama_teens.cfm.

For more information about the Pensacola Shakespeare Theatre, visit pensacolashakespeare.org or call (850) 439-2289.

By Susie Forrester, University Communications