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Improv Camp develops leadership skills

This week I lived democracy in Camp Hill by working with Camp Star’s Improv Camp, an all-guys camp focused on using art to develop leadership skills.

Increasing the emotional inventory for campers was the goal for the week.  Campers, ten young men ages 15 to 19, attended from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to Friday, although we took a break for the 4th of July. 

Improv is a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters, and dialogue of the game, scene, or story are made up in the moment. Using this artistic tool, guest artist L. E. Zarling and Camp Director Richard Trammell led the participants in activities to build commitment, trust, teamwork, and self-expression.

Believing that young men could benefit from an outlet to express their feelings and a safe space to affirm their identity, Camp Star’s Improv Camp aims to provide that space.

Trammell explained, “Providing a safe space for exploration is imperative to understanding our communities and promoting leadership within them.  We do not have to accept the narratives written by others.  We can explore and develop our own understanding.”

He added, “This camp provides the space and time for those discussions and the opportunity to build on the leadership strengths already present within our community.”

Kathy Gregory, a camp volunteer, noted, “Many times, young guys have only two tools at their disposal, funny and loud. So, we embraced that when we started this leadership camp three years ago. We used these two strengths to develop a wider range of leader behavior. Relationship skills are critical for leaders. We aim to increase their toolkit.”

Watching the activities and the growth of the campers, the power of art to develop leadership potential is evident. This is not new information to the camp artists.

Zarling, an improvisor and stand-up comic living in Richmond, Virginia, said, “When I started doing improv, I realized while I’m on stage, I have total autonomy over my life and I can make my own decisions, my own calls.”

 Zarling added, “There are things out there working against you, but you can still make your world better. You have control of yourself and your emotions, and you can use this to your advantage.”

Trammell sees the value as well. He said, “Art gave me a foundation and an outlet to express myself. Through theatre, I was able to figure out that emotions are important, and feelings are valid.”

Zarling described one of many camp activities saying, “The students stand in a tight circle, with their hands in the center. Then we have them grab other hands at random. The puzzle is for the whole group to work together to get themselves untangled.   The goal is to teach that leadership is sometimes listening and not feeling like you always have to have all the answers.  Mistakes are allowed. If we make a choice and it doesn't work, we can always reassess and move on from where we are.”

Trammell added, “Art is our tool for unlocking the leadership potential in our participants. We are helping our young guys learn to lead through building strong relationships. Being able to identify and voice your feelings is essential.”

Art unlocking emotions, leading to the development of leadership skills, culminating in stronger communities is the ultimate goal.  By providing the participants of Improv Camp with these skills, Camp Star hopes to build leaders with the necessary tools to access and express their emotions in a positive way. We all learned a lot at Improv Camp 2018!