For kids who have been locked up at home for months, camp has been a welcome escape.
That’s why Desert Stages has been thrilled to make it happen this year, even though it looks different than it has in years past.
The Scottsdale community theater’s staff has figured out a safe, socially distanced way to offer three children’s camps this summer with acting, singing and dancing.
Everything has been new for Executive Director Ellen Versen. She started the job as Desert Stages executive director on February 24, just before the pandemic shut it down. The theater, whose home is at Scottsdale Fashion Square, closed its current shows and postponed the others that were in rehearsal.
Shortly after the mall reopened and they regained access to their theater, the shopping center closed again because of looting and property damage during a protest. Desert Stages Theater was unharmed.
That closure didn’t affect them as much, because the summer camps were already moved to Scottsdale Plaza Resort. Versen reached out to the resort because she knew she needed something the size of a ballroom.
“We really needed to have enrollment numbers high enough to make it worthwhile but be able to keep the kids safe and distant,” Versen says.
“To do that, we needed to find a larger space. We reached out to (Scottsdale Plaza Resort), and we have a beautiful partnership going through the summer.”
Hotels are suffering from a lack of guests, so the partnership is one that works well for both parties. The resort even offered campers’ families a free upgrade to a suite if they wanted to a “staycation” during camp and use the pool.
The first two camp sessions were “Honk Jr.” and “Cinderella: A Ragtime Musical.” The final session, which runs from July 13 to July 24 will have the kids rehearsing and performing “Dear Edwina Jr.”
The resort’s size Desert Stages create a safe check-in and camp process.
“The kids arrive in a carpool lane, and they don’t even get out of the car until they’ve had their temperature taken and they reply to the COVID questionnaire,” Versen says. “That works out extremely well. We’ve received compliments about how organized our process is for bringing in kids and keeping them 6 feet apart.”
All staff and camp counselors wear masks. For the first two weeks, it was optional for kids to wear masks, but now it is mandatory, as Arizona changed its policies. The theater provides masks to those who need them. Campers bring their own snacks and there are intensified cleaning methods in place. Versen says the kids have been very good about following sanitation routines, washing their hands, staying apart and using hand sanitizer.
Campers are divided into groups of 10 and each will get to perform part of a musical at the end of the two-week camp. Campers will receive a video with camp highlights and the final performance.
“It’s a different experience, but they’re having fun,” Versen says. “They like being out of the house for a little bit and seeing friends again.”
The staff is two adults who are in charge and then teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18, who are camp counselors to the children who are ages 6 to 12. Versen says a lot of people who were in the first camp have now signed up for the second camp.
In the past, summer camp enrollment was typically around 70 campers. Despite COVID, they had 52 for the first camp, which they were pleased with.
“We’re hoping to get more in sessions two and three,” she says. “I think a lot of parents were holding back to see how it goes.”
Versen says the camp counselors often watch for children who are uncomfortable or sick. This year, they haven’t had children who feel that way. She thinks it is because the kids are so eager to finally be away from home.
“So many arts organizations turned to virtual programming and Zoom,” Versen says. “We think the kids are just done with that after finishing the school year that way and having so many on-screen experiences. It’s nice for them to get out of the house, get moving, and get into a room with friends and adults who care about and focus on something positive like these shows they are putting together.”
The camps are $415 for two weeks, which Versen says works out to be $40 a day for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. They also have after care from 3 to 5 p.m. for families who need it for an additional $10 per hour. Counselors keep kids occupied and engaged. Scholarships are available.
It’s something she hopes parents will consider for the final session.
“The message is positive, the music is uplifting, and it never hurts to do a dance or two,” Versen says.
Desert Stages, desertstages.org/summer-camp.