10 teenage helpers. 40 hours. 50 kids.
That’s what last week consisted of for me while I was helping at St. Luke’s Summer Sing and Play Drama Camp. And if you think it sounds like all fun and games, think again.
On the first day, I arrived there with my sister completely unsure of what the week would have in store for us. There were some other teenagers there, all members of Crossflame, and most of them had helped with camps like this in summers past. None of them were very forthcoming when in came to advice or letting us know what exactly would be going on here. Probably because they were looking forward to watching us be unprepared for what was next.
Ron, who also directs Crossflame, was in charge of the camp, and the first task he gave us seemed easy enough. Me and two of the other helpers were to set up outside for mid-morning snack time. So we opened up 5 cartons of juiceboxes, 2 bags of pretzels, and a whole bunch of bananas. We arranged them nicely on the picnic table and waited for the kids to start arriving. We didn’t have to wait long.
At first all you could hear was the sound of feet running, running, running, in our direction. Then you could start to hear voices. Screaming, talking, laughing voices, all way too loud for ten-thirty in the morning. And then you could see them. 50 pairs of starved-crazy eyes. Five minutes later there was trash everywhere, children everywhere, and not a scrap of food left in sight. Stragglers came up to the table whining about how they didn’t get their snack, and had to be taken inside to get one by a helper. When I was told there were going to be two snack times a day, and a lunchtime, that should’ve been my clue to run away and never look back. But I fought down the urge to abandon ship, and stayed. There was something strangely satisfying about being in charge of a bunch of kids, and there was something interesting about it as well.
Besides snack time, the days mainly consisted of playtime and rehearsal time. When it was playtime, the children would stampede out to the playground and run around wildly for 30 minutes. One of their favorite activities at that time was “chase the teenage helpers around until they're tired and then tackle them to the ground.” Luckily, they liked doing this mostly to the boys, so I only had to watch from afar. I felt sympathetic, but really, there was nothing I could do. If I tried to intercede, the kids might decide to go after me next! No, I wasn’t taking any chances there.
Rehearsal time was when all the kids would trudge back into the choir room, take their seats, and get out their scripts. Then they would rehearse songs and lines and parts for hours at a time. Now you have to understand that these kids were working on an entire 40 minute play to be put on that Sunday. They only had five days to not only memorize, but perfect the entire production. I was highly skeptical that this was going to be accomplished. I pretty much thought it was going to take a miracle for Ron to pull this one off.
On the third day we started practicing the play in the church Sanctuary. By that time, all the helpers were quite tired out, and all the kids were getting impatient and turning into a bunch of little complainers. It was Wednesday, and I pretty much knew all the kids by name -- and by personality.
There were the Whiners, the group that never seems to have anything better to do than to complain about something. “That boy just pushed me!” “I didn’t get a second juice at snacktime!” Why do we have to practice AGAIN?” That was the group I did my best to avoid having to deal with.
There were the Instigators, the kids that like to stir up trouble at any given opportunity. Whether that means teasing another kid, or just not listening to the rules, they always seemed to be able to get a bunch of other kids to follow them.
There were the Superiors, the ones that thought because they were the oldest of the group, they had some kind of authority over the rest of them. They looked down on the rest of the kids and made fun of them for messing up lines, or being upset over “stupid little things.” As if they were any different. I mean they’re ALL elementary school here!
And then there were the rest of them. There were some kids that just kind of blended in and didn’t do much, and then there were some that seemed like they were quiet, or they seemed like they were mean, but when they got on stage, they really got into it, and did their part better than the rest of them. Those kids were the ones who were the most fun to get to know.
Sunday came. I had to help all the kids get into costume and make sure they were all lined up in their right spots on stage. After making sure no one had any toys or electronics with them, and breaking up a few fights, they were as ready as they would ever be. Ron gave them the cue to start and…the first kid said her first line perfectly.
And that was that. It got off to a strong start, and even though some kids mumbled their dialogue a little, and some forgot that they weren’t supposed to turn their backs to the audience, they pulled it off pretty amazingly. They memorized the words to all twelve of the songs perfectly, and they finished the closing number with a bang. I felt so proud.
Ok, so I’ll admit at first it didn’t seem like it was going to be the most fun thing in the world, but by the end of the week I was really glad I decided to come and work with the kids. It was five days of insanity, but sometimes, a little bit of insanity is exactly what you need.