Mary Stoltze was part of the first group of kids to take part in Troy University’s Summer Spotlight on Creative Drama nine years ago.
Now a year past the cutoff age for inclusion, she’s back to help a new generation of kids explore their creative sides.
“I was really shy as a kid, and it helps you open up,” said Stoltze, 14, who participated in each of the last eight camps. “It really gives you the confidence to go out on stage. I remember when I was younger that I really loved it and enjoyed it, and I wanted to give that same feeling to the kids going through it now.”
The camp, for children ages 4-13, focuses on structured free play, an environment in which the children can play freely and imaginatively.
“The children are divided into age groups based on physical abilities, cognitive abilities, emotional maturity and intellectual maturity,” said Tori Lee Averett, chair of the TROY Department of Theatre and Dance. “We have them all over campus. We have session leaders and assistants who provide instructions, hands-on work for the children. Their imaginations can go crazy within a structured environment, and they can come up with all sorts of things from stage craft to creative dramatics.”
TROY students serve as group leaders and help the children find their creative sparks.
Stoltze remembers being one of the new kids in the program, afraid to venture out of her shell.
“I really liked a lot of the counselors, because they were all really nice, energetic people, and I’m not energetic, so it helped break me out of my shell,” Stoltze said. “There’s one girl who, when she started this camp in the beginning of the week, she wouldn’t talk at all and didn’t want to participate in any activities. But, as the camp has progressed, she’s really come out of her shell and participated. I think this camp helps with that.”
Stoltze is one of four former participants who returned this year as volunteers.
“It is fascinating to see that it was a positive experience for them and they want to give back to other young people,” Averett said.
Summer Spotlight began with the Spotlight on Dance, which was aimed at ages 8-12, and concludes next week with the Performance Intensive on Theatre and Dance and Tech, which focuses on high school and college students.
“Summer Spotlight was initially created to provide an opportunity for young people to experience theater, dance and performing arts in the summer in a forum that was built with them in mind,” Averett said. “It was also built as an outreach and service to this area of the state and country where, for youth, there’s not always guaranteed to be theater and dance. Thirdly, we created it as sort of a laboratory for our theater education and theater and dance students who might be interested in teaching one day. There’s nothing like real-world application.”
Averett said this year’s Summer Spotlight participation numbers are the highest yet, which indicates the need for such a program.
“We hear it every year: ‘Why can’t we have this at school?’ Even once a week would mean a lot to these kids,” Averett said. “We need it.”