Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education

FALL 2000     http://www.eastern.edu/publications/emme    Vol. 2, No. 2

Theme: Cross-Cultural Partnership

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Eastern College Summer Theatre Camp:
Collaborative Arts Education in Action 

Mark Hallen
Eastern College

Abstract: The Eastern College Summer Theater Camp is a month-long day camp program for children. With an emphasis on partnership, creativity, teamwork, and high energy, children and staff alike come away with changed perspectives not only on their ability to develop theater, but also on relating to and enriching others in all areas of life.

What is ECSTC?
Distinct Features of ECSTC
The Importance of Urban/Suburban Partnership

"It has been said that when we come into this world, we do so with our fists enclosing the multitude of gifts each of us has been given to share with the world. Our job in life as individuals, families, and teachers is to find ways of unfurling those fists and sharing those gifts, so that when we leave this world, with our hands open at our sides, we can know that we have spent the gifts we have been given on each other."

Author unknown


What is ECSTC?


    Eastern College Summer Theatre Camp (ECSTC) is a month-long summer day camp opportunity provided for children ages 9 to 14.  ECSTC was initiated by the author, Director of Theatre at Eastern College, in 1998 at the current location with the sponsorship of Eastern College.  ECSTC was indebted to the model created by the MUSE Theater Company that began at Wheaton College in 1988 as an outgrowth of the theater training program led by Professor Jim Young. Theater professionals and Wheaton alumni, Kathryn Petersen and the author, came together to found MUSE, modeling a summer theater program Petersen had worked with at the People’s Light and Theater Company in Malvern, PA.  The summer theater idea has come full circle, returning to the current location at St. Davids, PA, less than 10 miles away from Malvern.  Yet, ECSTC has evolved into something different and unique since the beginning of that summer theater idea. [paragraph 1]

Mission and Goal

    The mission of ECSTC is to teach a diverse group of kids to create collaboratively, cross-culturally, confidently and joyfully. Our goal is to inspire them to listen to and trust their individual and collective imaginations as they invent, rehearse and perform a fully realized original production together. Furthermore, we place a great emphasis on including the economic, geographic and racial diversity of the group by fixing the tuition at an affordable rate and also providing scholarships in a sliding scale on the basis of financial needs.  Underwritten by grants from various local and national sources, the scholarships and the transportation services enable a diverse group of children from North and West Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, to participate in this camp opportunity. [paragraph 2]


    We implement educational methods which allow kids to "go wild" with playful, responsible, and imaginative adults in a safe, diverse, creative, and collaborative environment. This means, for instance, daring the children to release "fiercely physical"  and enormously creative energy, yet with safety and respect for others and with the focus on the particular goal or task at hand. It also means inviting individual kids to take the center of attention vocally and physically at times so that they learn to  direct that attention to others as well. The adults consistently encourage the children with the motto: "Whatever you can imagine, let’s find a way to do it!" [paragraph 3]

    In order to accomplish this, we break the whole group of about 30-36 children into three smaller groups, which we call "tribes."  Two "travelers" (artist-counselors) assigned to each tribe lead the smaller group of children to and from classes focusing on acting, poetry/visual arts, and dance.  These classes are taught by artist-teachers who have backgrounds in arts education. Some are currently college students and others are professional artists.  During the first two weeks, each group presents small projects they complete in the classes on each day. The travelers, in addition to providing guidance, safety and discipline, act as members of their tribe. As time progresses, each tribe develops an imaginary "tribal" identity, creation story, and even geographic "homeland." The genesis of these identities--for instance, the Moon, the Cave, and the Crossroads--is based on the theme of the camp that the artistic director and staff determine in advance. The projects, stories and characters that emerge from the classes and group improvisation sessions are woven together by the artistic director, the playwright, and other artist-teachers during the final two weeks to create an original play that children eventually perform for friends, families and sponsors. [paragraph 4]

    One of the parents who attended her children's performances for two years shares her thought of the camp: 

"I'm very pleased with the camp.  The performances are first class.  My children who attended the camp in two different years have learned to express their creativity with less inhibition.  They fully immersed themselves in this caring and creative community of adults and children who came from various racial and economic backgrounds.  By the end of the camp they bonded so well with their 'travelers' and fellow campers." (Mother of a third and a fifth grader) [paragraph 5]

Distinct Features of ECSTC

Consistent and Intensive Contact 

    We meet five days a week for four weeks from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.  Down-times with a snack, lunch and free time are built into the daily schedule. The low staff-to-child ratio (about 1 to 3) enables adults to provide children with one-on-one instruction and mentoring as much as possible. The artistic director and the executive director are on site at all times.  Children who are transported to and from city locations have extended time to interact with their travelers and each other. [paragraph 6]

Structured and Varied Activities

    After the entire group of 30-36 kids and 12 staff gather in the morning for warm-ups, ice-breakers, games and announcements, the kids break up into teams of 8-10, each overseen by two travelers.  Since 1999 a teenage apprentice has been added to each tribe. The small groups rotate among three 45-minute classes, each focusing on acting, dance, and visual art/poetry, then they take lunch and play time followed by "Tribe Time." The daily schedule embraces a continuum of verbal/non-verbal and class/non-class activities. [paragraph 7]

Learning by Doing, Creating by Collaborating 

    Class instruction engages the group in specific tasks, quests and commissions which the kids and the staff do together. Through improvisation in each class and Tribe Time, the small groups eventually solidify their individual and group identity, history, and culture (completed with secret "homeland"). Visual, verbal and movement "assignments" (in the form of banner, story, character, dance, song, etc.) become the materials for the crystallization of theatrically expressed identities and stories. [paragraph 8]

Oversight, Outcomes and Responsibilities

    The executive director plans, implements and oversees the program in addition to raising funds, making budgets, and enrolling children. At Eastern, the author plays this role while functioning as Director of Theatre in the Communication Arts Department that provides ECSTC staff with the option of earning undergraduate internship credits.  The executive director also hires, trains and mentors the staff, and consults with the artistic director on the implementation of the program on a daily, even hourly basis.   As the performance nears he fulfills the role as the director of the production. [paragraph 9]

    The artistic director oversees the planning for and running of each day in concert with the needs and progress of the artist-teachers.  He or she responds to the questions and feedback of the travelers and pays attention to the needs of each child in the program.  The assistant artistic director assists the artistic director with running the acting classes to help the director balance the tasks of instructing the class and coaching the kids, especially during rehearsals for the final performance. [paragraph 10]

    As the program progresses, the artistic director, in consultation with the travelers and artist-teachers, begins to explore common themes, images and ideas that the tribes have discovered during their class sessions. They become materials for a narrative structure which the staff playwright shapes by including the stories of all three tribes. In addition, a staff designer/tech director becomes especially important in adding to the performance a theatrical life in the form of set, lights and sound. Tribal props, costumes, banners, songs and dances are designed, written and constructed during the class sessions in poetry/visual art and dance. The role of a staff composer and musician has become a very important feature of this program. [paragraph 11]

    Also, three apprentices, each assigned to a tribe as part of the traveler team, assist the "travelers" with bridging between the leadership role and the participant role in the group. [paragraph 12]

The Importance of Urban/Suburban Partnership

    The ECSTC collaborative arts education model provides an example of how multicultural education can work for a diverse group of urban and suburban kids, whose creativity remains untapped at best and crushed at worst by traditional education. Since each tribe is diversely populated, the fictional culture each creates both suspends and includes the cultural differences each kid brings to it. We believe this feature of the program is both theater-making and human relations at its best: collaboration among the diversity of voices and visions come together to achieve a unified goal and tell a singular story. [paragraph 13]

    Also, we find this process benefits the college student artist educators-in-training who staff the program. Through the process they learn to translate their skills and talents into a valid invitation to the kids to fly on the wings of their collective creativity. This requires them not only to discern the abilities, limitations, strengths and fears of each child, but also to summon their own abilities and courage to take that very risk themselves. [paragraph 14]


    ECSTC places a challenge and a promise before both children and staff: daring to value and express their own internal gifts, sharing them with others different from them, and valuing others' gifts as well.  They will be enriched by creativity beyond anything they could achieve by themselves. [paragraph 15]

    The ECSTC model works when the people who staff and support it subscribe to the notion that "children [at play] may be the closest we get in understanding the Kingdom of God" (Campolo, 1999)1.  By helping them engage themselves in a partnership of creativity with a diverse population of kids in a safe, structured and intentional way, they are rehearsing to move forward from this "little world of the stage" to a much larger world with a great vision and desire to make it a better place. [paragraph 16]


1. The quote was taken from the 1999 WHYY television short series, "Spirituality," produced by Audrey Foltz for WHYY TV 12.

***For a further reading on ECSTC check out  Tibbels' article in Inroads (online publication) published by Graduate Center for Applied Research at Eastern College at http://www.gcar.org/theatre_for_community_developmen.htm.


Mark Hallen is Assistant Professor and Director of the Theatre Program at Eastern College.  He is also Executive Director of Eastern College Summer Theatre Camp.  He has directed numerous plays in the U. S. as well as overseas.  

Write to the Author

Recommended Citation in the APA Style

Hallen, M. (2000). Eastern College Summer Theatre Camp: Collaborative Arts Education in Action. Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education [online], 2(2), 16 paragraphs. <Available: http://www.eastern.edu/publications/emme/2000fall/hallen.html> [your access year, month date]


Editor: Heewon Chang, Ph. D.
Assistant Editors:
Anna Rose and Francoise Aimée Jean-Louis

E-Mail: emme@eastern.edu

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