Most kids at the Emily K. Center say drama camp boosts their self-confidence.
For Vanaya Henderson, 16, drama camp helped her realize her passion and get through a tough time in her life. She’s participated since she was 8.
Her grandfather died from a sudden heart attack five years ago. It shocked everyone in the family, especially Henderson, who says her grandfather was her support system. He wasn’t a big theater fan, but he was in the crowd at every one of her plays.
“It made feel really proud, and I know he’s really proud of me doing this,” Henderson said. “I’m just trying to make him and my family proud of me.”
Henderson said her grandfather is the reason she got interested in theater. The two would watch old westerns together and she was intrigued by the acting and how the movies were put together.
As part of the Emily K Center’s summer programming, 67 Durham second- through eighth-graders this week will present “Mulan Jr.” – a play based on the 1998 Disney animated movie “Mulan.”
The center partners with the Raleigh-based Justice Theater Project on the summer camp. For two weeks, students work with professional theater instructors studying acting, stage movement, improvisation, character development, dance, and production including costumes, makeup and props.
Three hours every morning, the students participate in yoga, learn music and do art. Three hours every afternoon the students rehearse.
“A girl. This is the ultimate dishonor,” says a boy, reciting his part, in a soft voice.
“Make it loud. Remember you’re mad,” instructs Deb Royals, the director of the Justice Theater Project.
“A girl! This is the ultimate dishonor!” the boy repeats louder, with a smile on his face.
Drama camp has that “unique combination of really building a lot of core skills for success, while being very fun,” said Lauren Gardner, the center’s chief operating officer.
Royals, who has led the camp since it began in 2006, has seen students grow outside their comfort zones.
“It’s so cool to watch a child (laugh) and say, ‘I just memorized all those lines. I did that show. I can do anything,’” she said. “If you can do that, and you can do it in eight days for essentially 24 hours, that empowers you to believe you can do a whole lot.”
Henderson’s first small role led to bigger roles. Now she’s a camp counselor.
“(I like) that you can become something that you want to be or you can portray something to someone and be able to connect with them that way,” she said. “Disney musicals are very popular, and so when you do something that they can relate to you, it feels really good because I may not know that person, but I just touched their life in a way.”
“Mulan Jr.” will be performed at the Emily K Center stage at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission is free.