Top 3 Acting Camps For Kids and Teens

The frenzy that many children face to get into the right acting school is acute for those who aspire to a career in the performing arts, and attending acting camps can be a steppingstone to Broadway or even Hollywood. The competition among these children, and among the camps vying for their tuition money, is more heated than ever.

According to the American Camp Association, the number of accredited performing arts camps grew to 804 in June 2007 from 527 in December 2001, a jump of 40 percent. Peg Smith, the organization’s chief executive, said the increase could be attributed in part to the elimination of school arts programs and the popularity of films like “High School Musical” and reality shows like “American Idol.”

Theater camp is pushing its way into mainstream pop culture. MTV recently filmed a documentary at the French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts, a camp in Hancock, N.Y. Last month, Disney’s made-for-TV movie “Camp Rock” opened to 8.9 million viewers; a sequel is under way. Not be left out, 19 Entertainment and Fremantle Media, the companies behind “American Idol,” founded Idol Camp, where series castoffs like Bucky Covington hold master classes.

To compete in this marketplace, camps are expected to offer top-notch facilities and professional staff. French Woods recently installed a second recording studio. Last summer, campers at Stagedoor Manor participated in a youth-friendly adaptation of “Sweeney Todd,” with Stephen Sondheim e-mailing changes to the score.

Stagedoor Manor is tops in Acting Camps for Kids

Considered the gold standard of theater camps. Stagedoor, founded in 1975, caps its enrollment at 288 children a session, and spots fill up nine months ahead; campers — from precocious West Virginians to Ron Howard’s daughters — are admitted first come first served (with returning campers getting a first shot). The program is for young performers ages 10-18. Stagedoor Manor located in Loch Sheldrake, New York.

Variety article about Disney and Stagedoor Manor

Playbill article about Stagedoor Manor

Movie Maker article

Notable Alumni:

Mandy Moore
Robert Downey
Natalie Portman
Jon Cryer
Zach Braff
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Amy Ryan
Bijou Phillips
Mary Stuart Masterson
Jennifer Rudin (Director of Casting and Talent Development for Disney Theatrical Productions)

Stagedoor Manor Website

French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts

French Woods, founded in 1970, enrolls at least twice as many children as Stagedoor; over 12 weeks some 2,400 will attend the camp. French Woods is located on a private lake in the western Catskill mountains of New York State near the Delaware river and the Pennsylvania Border.

Campers are able to focus on one particular area of interest, or they may choose to select a variety of activities. We are at the same time, a theater camp, an art camp, a dance camp, a circus camp, a horseback riding camp, a sports camp, a magic camp, and a camp that offers all the traditional camp activities, with world class programs that each child can choose a-la-cart.

Notable Alumni:

Zooey Deschanel
Jon Favreau
Adam Levine
Nat Wolff (The Naked Brothers Band)

French Woods Website

Interlochen Center for the Arts

Interlochen Center for the Arts is a privately owned, 1,200 acre arts education institution in Interlochen, Michigan, roughly 15 miles southwest of Traverse City. Interlochen draws young people from around the world to participate in intensive study of music, theater, dance, art, creative writing, and motion picture arts.

In addition to participating in artistic endeavors, campers also are able to take part in traditional summer camp activities such as swimming, canoeing, sailing, camping, crafts, ping pong, billiards, cook-outs, mixers, trips to Lake Michigan, and playing sports such as soccer and softball in organized leagues, as well as tennis and basketball. Campers live in rustic cabins with up to 16 campers and one or two counselors. Campers begin their day at 6:30 in the morning to listen to announcements for that day, and end their day with slumber tunes. Slumber tunes rotate, and each night a different cabin is responsible to put something together for their cabin mates to fall asleep to.

Notable Alumni:

Felicity Huffman
Tom Hulce
Norah Jones
Kim Kashkashian
Jackson Rathbone

Interlochen Center for the Arts Website

While the average overnight camp costs $400 to $700 a week, according to the American Camp Association, Stagedoor Manor and French Woods charge closer to $5,000 for a three-week session. “Parents want to get quality for their money,” said Jennifer Rudin, the director of casting and talent development for Disney Theatrical Productions (and a Stagedoor alumna herself).

Nothing brings out the self-imposed competitiveness of these campers like a visit from an industry professional. Ms. Rudin of Disney has scouted at Interlochen and refers to Stagedoor as “one-stop shopping.”

Safety Information For Child Actors

The most important concern a parent should have is the well being and safety of their child. Here are some tips that parents should keep in mind in regards to the safety of their child in the entertainment industry:

1. Stop using your child’s social security number on their resume.

It use to be commonplace to use a social security number on a resume so producers, directors and casting directors could refer to you as a number when you go in for an audition. This is no longer the case. When your child signs in for an audition, there will be a spot for their SAG number. If they are not in the Screen Actors Guild, leave the box empty or ask the receptionist if they can use another number.

2. Change your phone number.

Once your phone number is listed, it will remain in online directories and even print directories for a long time. Simply changing it to be unlisted will not stop people from finding it out and calling you at home. Obtain a new number and keep it unlisted.

3. Check your child’s fan mail carefully.

Once your child has appeared on a TV show or in a movie, they will start to get fan letters. While this may seem neat at first, you must be careful when allowing your child to read the letters that come in. Look over the envelopes carefully and notice strange addresses. Letters from prisons oftentimes are marked “Inmate Mail” or have a strange address that looks like a PO box.

4. Take your own digital cards to your photographer.

When it is time to get your child’s photographs done for their portfolio or comp card, ask if you can bring your own digital card for their camera. If the photographer still shoots on film, make sure that their session fee includes giving the negatives to you. By protecting the raw images of your child, you will help prevent their likeness from showing up on online auction sites tomorrow or in years to come.

5. Audit an acting class.

Instead of shelling out the full fee for an acting class you have heard about, ask the instructor if your child can audit their class. Most will say yes. You should be skeptical about those who will not allow your child, and a parent, to sit in on a class or two.

6. Don’t look for agents in the mall.

If you get a flyer asking you to bring your child to the mall to meet with a talent manager, run the other way. Many of these companies make their money by charging outrageous fees for photographers and showcases. They thrive on signing hundreds of kids, hoping one of them happens to make it big.

7. Do your homework.

Never stop learning about the entertainment business. Read books on child actors, auditioning, acting technique, and biographies of former and current child stars. Attend workshops and seminars in your area.

8. Provide a support structure for your child.

During the course of your child’s career, they will turned down many times for different reasons. It is important to have both internal and external support mechanisms for your child to turn to when they need to talk or vent their frustrations.

9. Avoid leaving comments on fan web sites.

While at first it may seem neat when you see the first web site dedicated to your child, but avoid contacting the maker of the site or leaving feedback in a guestbook or forum. Your computer information can be tracked fairly easily, allowing them to get even more personal information.

10. Register your child’s name as a web site domain name.

As soon as your child books that new commercial, TV show or movie, register your child’s name as a “dot com” immediately so somebody cannot steal it out from under you. Registration services are under $10/year at most places, so it will be a cheap investment in your child’s safety.

Most of these items involve common sense, but you will be surprised how easily they are forgotten when your child has a chance at stardom. Keep your wits about you and remember your number one priority is the welfare of your child, not booking the part.