Camping for the arts

Dance, theater training highlights summer camp

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— Professional dance and theater training is not too far from home for local students participating in the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.

The camp offers two four-week sessions for junior- and intermediate-level students, one six-week session for high school- and college-level students and a discovery camp for younger students.

"You really learn a lot because these people are all professional," said Amy Lewis, a college-level student. "When we do the show, it is a full-out show with stage designers, a costume designer and lighting technicians."

Lewis attends three morning classes and performs a rehearsal in the evening.

She will attend Emerson College in the fall and said her time at Perry-Mansfield will be a benefit if she pursues a degree in theater. The emphasis on detail and perfection, Lewis said, takes performing to the next level.

Attending Perry-Mansfield is much more than an opportunity to embellish acting, dancing, horseback riding, writing, art or music skills.

Students enjoy "camping out" and spending time with people their age from many parts of the world.

"It feels like a contrast. It's like you get the best of both worlds," Lewis said. "You get the rustic camping experience and also (meet) a lot of people who are really experienced in their fields and live in New York and other cities."

Lewis was in the camp's most recent play, "Chicago," and danced and sang in the chorus.

"This is my second year. I wish I would have been able to start earlier. I would encourage anyone to come out here," she said.

Experiencing Perry-Mansfield is exciting for all of those who attend the camp.

Miriam Pensack, 11, has been coming to the camp for three years. She started at Perry-Mansfield with a discovery camp and has come back every year since.

Pensack attended the first session for junior and intermediate students and finished the camp about a week ago.

She said her favorite class was musical theater.

"It is a really great experience because it wasn't a camp you go to it's more of a school," Pensack said.

The intermediate and junior camp encourages young students to explore their talents in dance, theater, music, art, creative writing and equitation.

Each session ends with two camp performances.

Pensack participated in the play "The Overcoat." She played the part of the doctor and said it was very sad but she enjoyed being cast in it.

"It was hard work; however, all of the kids I know really loved it," she said.

The tranquil outdoors atmosphere of Perry-Mansfield helps create a focused and relaxed atmosphere for students to learn.

Pensack said she has the same opportunities to be in plays at school but feels the learning experience at Perry-Mansfield is better.

"Partly, it's being around other kids and getting to do what you love," Pensack said.

She said her middle school drama teacher, Rusty Delucia, also teaches at the camp and is an excellent performing arts instructor.

She looks forward to being in the high school session as there are a greater variety of classes that can be taken.

The amazing experience students have at the camp is similar for the camp's teachers.

Delucia, who teaches at the camp, was a student in the late 1950s.

"It's my life. It's what I live for," she said.

Delucia said the camp teaches students discipline that helps them succeed in many other fields.

"Creative with chaos doesn't work," she said.

Delucia said she still uses Charlotte Perry's "acting is believing" method for teaching theater.

Perry, along with Portia Mansfield, founded Perry-Mansfield in 1913.

Delucia said Perry's influence on her when she was a student led her to become a teacher in theater and English.

The camp, she said, gives students the finest instruction in the performing arts as well as exposure to different cultural backgrounds.

"Exposure to a bigger world is exceptional. The magic of this place exists the world over," said T. Ray Faulkner, a camp volunteer and member of the board of directors.

She said there have been many famous and prestigious people who have attended the camp, but those people are only one part of what makes the camp so special.

"Perry-Mansfield is so much bigger than one person. Perry-Mansfield is a world in itself. It'll never die," Delucia said.

Delucia said the students' connections with nature is an essential element of the camp.

"There is a wonderful sense of freedom you don't have the presence of a city," Faulkner said.

Faulkner said Perry-Mansfield teaches students the importance of the moment and enjoying the world at hand.

"The magic that evolves will stay for a long time," she said.

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