Summer in the spotlight

WASHINGTON — In the summer, the American University campus is alive with a variety of students from diverse programs, including the weeklong camps from Imagination StageImagination-Stage Logo. These  are called “Flex Week” camps because they can be mixed and matched to suit the schedules of families in the area, teens in particular. During the week, students study musical theater and dance.

The program is for students in seventh grade through 10th grade. Most of the students are from the District or the Bethesda-Potomac area, but some have ventured all the way from the South and Spain.This week at American University, Imagination Stage is offering courses in Scene Study and Musical Theater Dance.

“It’s nice to see the strong young adults they’re becoming,” said Nikki Kaplan, associate director of education for Imagination Stage. Kaplan has worked with Imagination Stage for eight years. She began performing when she was younger, then spent a few years as an actress, performer and singer in New York. “Ultimately, I found myself wanting to work with young people,” said Kaplan.

For acting classes, students develop an understanding of physical character, which is when you adjust your body and your voice to fit the needs of the character. They also play theater games and do improvisation.”When they’re on stage, they should want something from the other character on stage with them, which is their objective,” said Kaplan.

For dance classes, the pupils begin with establishing a ballet foundation, which teaches footwork and clear lines with the body. It also builds strength, flexibility, dexterity and coordination. A lot of focus is put on expression.

The program consists of a morning session and an afternoon session, each three hours long. Some students stay for both sessions and others come for just one. Students who do both sessions stay on campus the whole week.

The goal of the program is to introduce young people to acting and refine their dance and musical theater technique. It is also to give students an appreciation of why classes are important. “There is a technique,” said Kaplan. “Acting is the thing people think they can do without teaching.”

Instead of a professional show, the students have an informal sharing in front of their parents at the end of the week. The teachers will give them feedback and suggestions leading up to the presentation. “It’s more like a rehearsal than a production,” said Kaplan.

“We focus on the process instead of the product,” said Marcia Howard, who is the senior faculty for dance at Imagination Stage. Howard has been a dance mentor at Imagination stage since 2001 and became the senior faculty member in 2011.

“Being a dancer, actor or musical theater performer, it’s really important to spend time in classrooms,” said Kaplan. “Acting is like anything else. You have to learn how to do it first. You wouldn’t want your doctor to just jump into surgery.”