"SDP Summer Camp Saves the Day" by Kirsten Howell

What is your “happy place?” The place that brings you joy, where you want to be. It's a popular phrase. I've seen it on decorative pillows and plaques-- “The beach is my happy place.” Or the lake, or anywhere your heart desires. My daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, found her happiest place at Stage Door Productions at the Kroc Center during Summer camp. 

This sweet, smart, hard working child of mine had yet to find her place. Her “thing” if you will. She is a great student and gets along well with her peers, but something was missing. She had a visceral reaction to the suggestion that she join a competitive soccer team in third grade, even though she is a decent player. It seemed that many of her school friends had found their passions, but she was not particularly interested in the competitive world of travel sports, dance, or gymnastics. She was a home body, and loved nothing more than curling up with a good book on the weekends. I knew she would benefit from an activity where she would have fun, be challenged, and make new friends, and as luck would have it, she was cast in her 4th grade school play. She seemed to have been bitten by the theater bug afterward, and I was thrilled that she had found an activity that she enjoyed, but the school only has one play per year. I needed to find a place for her to explore this new found passion!  Being new to the theater world, we were a bit intimidated, and not sure where to begin. I knew it could be fierce, and I never fancied myself a “stage mom” type, but she was enthusiastic about theater, and she needed this. After asking around about local children's theater opportunities, a friend told us about Stage Door Productions. The timing was perfect for us to sign up for SDP Summer camp so we could get a taste of what it is like, and little did we know the lasting impact that it would have! 

After her first day at Annie, Kids. camp I knew she was hooked. The smile on her face when I picked her up was priceless. It was absolutely worth having to listen to the Annie soundtrack on loop for what seemed like 24 hours a day. These wonderful people saw something in her that no one else had! In this place, she seemed to be relieved of all of the pressure that she puts on herself and she learned how to have fun! They didn't care if she made straight A's or that she was shy--they saw who she was, and who she could be! A fire had been ignited, and I knew we had found something very special. 

I was struck by how welcoming the SDP team was. They went to great lengths to ensure the safety and happiness of the campers throughout the week. They worked hard, had fun, and managed to perform a full show, complete with props, costumes, and set in front of a sold out theater with only 5 days of preparation from audition to showtime! It was incredible! This shy child of mine was on a stage in front of 300 + people singing and dancing with 60 new friends and having the time of her life! In August following that camp, she was cast in her first musical production with SDP. As we arrived at the Kroc for the first rehearsal she could hardly contain her excitement and exclaimed,” I'm so happy to be back,” as she got out of the car. Its exciting to see her so excited! 

How do they do it? I am still mystified by this, but I can tell you what I have observed a full show season and 3 camps later:

  • Lindsay and Brandon Kelly have created a dynamic environment that fosters love, confidence, discipline, work ethic, friendship and teamwork. What more could a parent ask for? SDP has essentially become an extension of our family, my daughter's education, and is critical to her character development. 
  • Stage Door Productions Interns absolutely rock!! These young people, who are 14 years old and older, could spend their Summer sleeping late and hanging out by the pool, but they enthusiastically choose to be at SDP, working countless hours planning, choreographing, coordinating and directing from sun up to sun down! They are counselors, mentors, big brothers and sisters and great friends. I could not hand pick a better group of role models for my child, and I am so grateful for the positive influence that they are for her!
  • Stage Door Productions Camp is safe. Of course, it is safe in the literal sense, in that you must sign your child in at camp every morning and show your driver's license every afternoon at pick up time. Campers wear an SDP wristband and are supervised at all times. It is a nut free environment, so those with allergies are free from worry in that regard. It is also a safe place for your child to try something new. It is a safe place for them to completely mess up and learn how to try again! It is safe in that your child will be loved by everyone at SDP -- Interns, directors, SDP kids and parents! Brandon and Lindsay take the well being of the SDP kids very seriously. They keep up with the kids on social media and hold them to a high standard of behavior. They encourage them in school and insist that they keep up with their studies. An all around win-win! 
  • Stage Door Productions Camp is the best deal in town! A week of camp from 9-5, with before and after care for a ridiculously low price- talk about bang for your buck!!!
  • On August 5, 2017, I sat in amazement as I watched 70 + children of all ages storm the stage at the Kroc Center to be in a wedding picture with their beloved mentors and teachers, Lindsay and Brandon Kelly, who had just exchanged vows. At the reception, I laughed with Lindsay about how her wedding reception had been hijacked by SDP children. Not surprisingly, she replied that she would not have it any other way. This is exactly what I love most about SDP. The more people in this world to love my child, the better. As my daughter approaches her 12th birthday and all that goes along with being a pre-teen, I cannot imagine a better environment for her to learn, laugh and love outside of home and school than SDP. 
  • Bonus: The atmosphere is not fiercely competitive among performers or parents. It is quite the opposite! This community rallies around each child and encourages them. These kids are excited for each other when they get cast in ensembles and leading roles alike! They support each other and make each other better. Trust me when I tell you there is nothing else like it in Memphis! And the parents are awesome- no crazy stage mom drama here! 

Next month, after Hairspray Jr., wraps, we begin rehearsals for Lifetime of Christmas, which will be her fifth regular season production with SDP. Yes- I said “we,” as in my daughter AND me. I, an uncoordinated middle aged woman with no particular ability for singing or dancing, have never performed anything in my life; however, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in a show with our SDP family and my little girl. She is not shy anymore. She is brave and strong.... and extremely happy, in large part because of this wonderful company. What started as an interest in Summer camp has blossomed into a full fledged passion for performing arts, and has opened our hearts and minds to a new world we never knew existed in our own backyard! If you think your child would benefit from new friends, positive role models, discipline, loads of fun and laughs, but you aren't sure where to start, you need to take a look at SDP Summer camps... you never know where it will lead! #SDPFamily