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Keeping the camp in campus

From left, Garrett Rose, Lara Fitzgerald (behind), and David Riemer participate in a summer camp for acting at the University of Idaho. 
 (Kevin Nibur/ / The Spokesman-Review)
From left, Garrett Rose, Lara Fitzgerald (behind), and David Riemer participate in a summer camp for acting at the University of Idaho. (Kevin Nibur/ / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Sally Eames-Harlan faces the theater students and gives them their text: “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

She has them whisper it while they walk. The students tiptoe and slink.

She has them shout it, and they march.

“See how much your body knows?” Eames-Harlan asks. “It knows what sneaky’s about, and it knows what loud is about.”

Sneaky and loud are just two of the subjects under discussion at campuses around the region this summer, as schools host thousands of teenagers and younger children in camps like the high school drama camp this week at the University of Idaho.

“This gives the students the opportunity to get a little more than they get in high school,” Eames-Harlan said.

And it gives universities a little income and activity to get through the slow summer months, when most regular students are away. The schools charge tuition – or fees from outside camp organizers – and the campers provide work for university employees in residence halls and elsewhere, university officials say.

The range of camps is wide, from athletic camps to programs for drum majors at Eastern Washington University to would-be journalists at UI to Robots on the Palouse, a camp for elementary students at Washington State University.

Kristin Bettcher, conference coordinator for EWU, says the school’s camps have steadily grown over the years. EWU has added football and wrestling camps to deal with the demand, she said. Last year, EWU had more than 5,432 campers, she said.

“The numbers just continue to increase every year,” she said.

Some weeks, campuses are packed with campers. Last week, Eastern had about 1,600 campers – for boys basketball, wrestling and football – and filled its dorms.

At UI, outside events and conferences bring in about $2 million a year, with most of that coming from summer camps, said Cami McClure, director of conferences, events and information services. About 5,000 campers will spend time on campus in Moscow this summer, an increase of about 20 percent over last year, she said.

The camps are important to universities for a variety of reasons, she said, from revenue to recruitment to keeping university workers on the job all year.

“It allows us to keep our employees, who are here during the regular school year, employed year-round,” McClure said.

The UI theater camp had eight students from Washington and Idaho.

“It’s a very rigorous week – sort of a weeklong conservatory,” said Charlie Pepiton, the director of education at the Idaho Repertory Theatre and the camp. “They do workshops morning, afternoon and evening, and we take them to plays.”

On Tuesday, the students in the acting class stood on the round stage and listened to Eames-Harlan.

“We’re going to do some things that make you feel like dorks today,” she said. “But we’re all going to be dorks.”

She had the students “balance the space,” a chaotic-seeming exercise in which the actors move continuously, each trying to keep the group evenly distributed, each trying to fill an empty space.

“Stop!” she yelled. “Is that space balanced? Balance the space!”

She told the students that she wanted them to break down the barrier between thinking and acting – to prevent their acting from getting too “thinky.”

“Every actor’s goal is to be able to be as instinctive as possible when you’re on stage,” Eames-Harlan said.

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