Kids take the stage at summer arts camps

FPU, Tabor camps encourage students’ talents in music, theater

"Take Courage" was the theme of the 2023 Musical Theater Camp at Tabor College. The 21 participants gave a performance for family and friends at the conclusion of the June 4-10 camp. Photo: Tabor College

For many kids, attending camp is a staple each summer. Students interested in the arts can attend camps offered by the two U.S. Mennonite Brethren-affiliated colleges.

Both Fresno Pacific University in Fresno, Calif., and Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., offer summer camps in June for students interested in developing their talents in music and theater.

FPU has held its annual music camp for more than 10 years, giving students entering grades six through 12 a chance to learn and perform in an area that interests them. Campers can focus on band, orchestra, choir, piano, contemporary worship or musical theater.

George Dougherty, camp director for 2023, says the camp is a way for FPU to give back to the local community.

“We have over a million people in very close proximity, and there are other music camps,” Dougherty says. “But many will get a facility up in the mountains, and my observation has been they seem to be more expensive. We’re able to offer something more affordable and accessible because it’s right here in the Valley.”

Dougherty estimates the camp draws 50 to 70 students each year, most of whom stay on campus for the week, although they do have the option of attending as day campers.

Orchestra is one of the areas in which Fresno Pacific University music campers can focus their attention during the annual June camp. Photo: FPU

Students take classes on musicianship, attend master classes in their area of concentration and rehearse pieces in preparation for a final concert for parents on the last evening of camp. They also enjoy evening recreational time with their fellow campers

“It’s close-knit; they have greater opportunity for one on one, personalized attention,” Dougherty says. “It’s a family atmosphere.”

Tabor College’s musical theater camp, started in 2019, follows a similar format, with campers alternating between workshops, rehearsal times and fun group activities.

Greg Zielke, camp music director and producer, says students come in with varying levels of experience in theater, but all are given the opportunity to learn more about areas of interest such as choreography, makeup, sound and lighting, set design and acting and singing.

“One of the things we’ve prioritized is that everybody is given a chance to be successful,” Zielke says. “Everybody gets to be featured, and we try to help them to be very supportive of each other.”

The camp has a theme each year, and the songs selected for the final performance for parents center around this theme.

“It’s kind of daunting at first; the students come in and they’ve never seen any of this music, but by Saturday, they’re rocking and rolling,” Zielke says.

Both directors have received positive feedback from campers and parents, and they particularly enjoy seeing past campers return later as counselors. The camps also help with recruiting efforts, as middle and high school students get on campus and learn more about what the colleges offer

Dougherty and Zielke both emphasize the integration of faith into the camps, seeing them as an opportunity to encourage students and point them to Christ through devotional times, sacred music and discussions with instructors.“We’re trying to really lean into making it an experience that isn’t just theater, but really has the kids investigate things about God,” Zielke says. “If they leave feeling like they’ve been loved on and they’ve learned something, that’s our goal.”


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