Kids create epic stories at pandemic-friendly summer camp

Dayton Live is hosting masked and socially distanced summer camps for kids fourth through eighth grade at the PNC Arts Annex. CONTRIBUTED
Dayton Live is hosting masked and socially distanced summer camps for kids fourth through eighth grade at the PNC Arts Annex. CONTRIBUTED

Dayton Live offering weeklong programs

Marveling at her campers’ imaginations while they bring to life everyday objects, Leah Thomas said feeding creativity is more important than ever amid a pandemic.

Thomas, the director of education and engagement at Dayton Live, has been working hard to give Dayton’s kids the best version of a socially-distanced summer camp experience.

Monday, nine kids began the weeklong Dayton Live Pop-up Puppet Camp where “campers” in fourth and fifth grades meet every day to construct their own pop-up theater, create their own characters and write an original script to perform in front of their peers. Spots are already filled for next week’s Comedy Camp.

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Dayton Live is gauging the community’s interest with the first two weeks of summer camp, though Thomas said the hope is to add more camp programs as soon as August. Parents can put their children on the wait list for if, and when, new programs open by visiting, under the education tab.

“It is hopeful, but it’s also challenging,” Thomas said. … “How can we preserve this heart of performance, building ensemble and community — how can we preserve that in the midst of a pandemic?”

Turns out, kids at summer camp can be some of the best people to turn to for advice.

“Working with kids, they are the best audience to try new things with because they will tell you point blank if it’s working or not,” Thomas said. “It is challenging but if the artist community doesn’t figure it out for themselves, no one else will figure it out for us. I do find a lot of hope in the fact that we’re able to have (summer camp).”

Campers decorated their own “camp” or work space they get to call their own for the duration of the week.

“It’s important for them to feel at home and feel like they can personalize it a little bit,” Thomas said. “That’s been the tactic to kind of counteract some of the distance and this idea that everything is sterile and ‘don’t touch.’”

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In each of the nine “campsites” this week, a fantastical narrative is taking shape.

One student, Aiden Thompson, had the idea to cut the finger tips off of a glove to create five unique characters with conflicting hopes and dreams.

“The pinky’s biggest fear was losing his throne,” Thomas said. “But, when (Aiden) answered the interview questions as the character on his thumb, the thumb’s biggest dream in life was to become the king. I was like, this is going to be insane. I have no idea how that’s going to happen but I love this story.”

Thompson has titled his epic “Pinky King and His Court.”

Scholarships were available in the past for Dayton Live summer camps, but because of revenue loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tuition, per child, is $149 for the week. However, Thomas said Dayton Live hopes to bring back scholarship opportunities as soon as possible.

“The sheer amount of personal isolation that comes with COVID-19 — we’ve heard a lot of different stories in the news just about depression, boredom and screen time being on the rise,” Thomas said. … “Theater naturally combats those things because there’s power in knowing you are not alone.”