This morning, ASC Education began our third year of the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for adults. I had not, initially, intended to blog about the camp at the beginning of the week. I thought I would wait until the end, make a wrap-up post, include some pictures, and that would be that.
But then something struck me, just here in the first few hours. As the campers arrived, I realized how many of them I know already -- because they've come to the first two years of camp, or to Teacher Seminars, or to the Blackfriars Conference. Of the nearly-thirty campers, at least half are familiar faces. We started off with an informal brunch, to let everyone settle in and mingle a bit before diving into lectures. I saw people sitting together, chatting amiably like old friends, and I know that they met here. It really is like camp is when you're a kid -- you may only see these people once a year, but when you do see them, they're friends. And it happens so fast -- already today, our new campers are chatting with the group, laughing at shared jokes, and making new friends. We're really starting to build a community with this camp, as well as our other events, of people with shared experiences and shared joy. As a result, they're not just colleagues with a mutual interest anymore; they people who come here become real buddies. Watching that happen, and getting to be buddies right there with them, is a great experience.
When the introductions began, so many of the campers said things that made my heart swell. "This is my indulgence for the summer." "I begged my family to let me take this week." "This is my treat to myself every summer." Many of the first-time campers are here because of our shows, and at least two of them said, "I thought I hated Shakespeare until I saw it here." Another camper is here because our touring troupe had reached her. Another makes a six-hour trip several times a year so that she can see every show, and she jumped at the chance to spend a full week here.
I love that. Statements like those are the reason why we do the work that we do. Hearing one testimonial like that can make frustrating weeks completely worth it. Hearing a dozen of those testimonials in a row just about bowled me over. I love that this thing we've started, a Shakespeare camp for adults, has become a real vacation. These people are taking time off of their jobs and away from their families for a week because they really want to. It's an incredible validation of our mission, "to recover the joy of Shakespeare," to make it something that is a rollicking good time, rather than an academic tonic. I love that our shows are good enough to make people want more. Seeing a production, for some of our audience members, just isn't enough -- they want to dive in, get their hands on the text themselves, learn more about how our actors make their magic. Because of this draw, the camp achieved its optimal number of participants last year, in only its second summer of existence, and we've met that goal again this year. I'm so glad that we can provide this experience for all of these Shakespeare enthusiasts, and I can't wait to see how the program, and our friendships, will keep growing in the future.