Young Actor's Theatre Camp: 7 Days Of Immersive Performing Arts Education With Industry Insiders

There's a great selection of Winter Camps on Outschool. Click through to see the full list including Young Actor's Theatre Camp. You can enroll, ask questions or sign-up for regular updates.

For the last fifteen years, show business veterans have traveled to Northern California to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day at a camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The group doesn’t gather for the natural beauty or mountain air — they make the pilgrimage to mentor students interested in the performing arts.

“It’s what we wished we’d had when we were kids”

Founded in 2001, Young Actor's Theatre Camp is the brainchild of actors Shawn Ryan and John Ainsworth, a married couple who are cultivating the next generation of showbiz talent.

“It’s what we wished we’d had when we were kids,” said Shawn, a writer, actor, singer and director who’s appeared in shows like “Bones” and “The Mentalist.” “We offer experiences that help them discover and develop in the performing arts, and that’s more than what I was getting in school — which was just memorization and trying to get a play up.”

Before arriving, students aged 12 to 18 fill out placement forms that describe their interests. When camp begins, they take roles in a pop-up production company that’s coached by teams of industry professionals, often people Ryan and Ainsworth have gotten to know through their work in TV, film and commercials.

“Those teams include a director, an acting coach, a director of photography, and then two or three on-set assistants,” said Ryan. “The adult staff mentors the kid staff in making the films.” At YATC’s upcoming winter camp, “we’re looking at making between 15 and 17 short films, and some of the scripts are really phenomenal,” he added.

Unlike other top performing arts camps, students don’t need to pass an audition; instead, instructors focus on “developing and discovering” each camper’s individual talents, said Ryan. “About five to ten percent are kids who already know that they want to try this as a profession,” he added. “We have a kid who’s going to Juilliard next year, and others have gone on to some of the top colleges.”

“Our school just did a musical and a Shakespeare play every year. We didn’t have film labs, stunt combat training or different musical styles to choose from.”

Before YATC, Ryan worked in a traditional children’s theater program “where they had to make sure that they all got a line in a song and a line in the show.” Although it offered everyone a chance to perform, “it was kind of silly for the kids to have no opportunity to really learn about the performing arts,” said Ryan.

Because students of all skill levels work closely with industry professionals, “there’s an opportunity for kids to develop in the areas that they want to develop in, but also to discover new areas that they never considered,” said Ryan.

Each role in a film production is up for grabs: campers direct, write and produce and act in their own films, but YATC’s holistic approach ensure that attendees also get experience in building sets, costuming and production design.

When Ryan was a student, “our school just did a musical and a Shakespeare play every year,” he recalled. “We didn’t have film labs, stunt combat training or different musical styles to choose from.” When he and Ainsworth started developing their program, “we thought, ‘what would we have wanted when we were their age?’”

“Everyone gets to learn every aspect of filmmaking,” said Ryan. “If you’ve the director of photography, you’re going to learn about acting — you’ve got to know what you’re looking for when putting a shot together.”

“This year, we have Nathan Adloff, probably the darling of the indie circuit this year. I thought, well, let’s see if he wants to come for seven days.”

In addition to showbiz vets, YATC’s staff is rounded out by camp counselors and arts education professionals with industry experience.

Working together, “the kids decide the genre of film,” said Ryan. “We want them to go where their interests lie, instead of someone saying, ‘you have to make a drama.’ They might want to make a fantasy/sci-fi!”

Thanks to a growing reputation and the founders’ personal and professional connections, YATC brings in industry pros who are eager to share their expertise.

“This year, we have Nathan Adloff, who directed “Miles” with Molly Shannon, probably the darling of the indie circuit this year,” said Ryan, who’d worked with the director on a film several years ago. “I thought, well, let’s see if he wants to come for seven days.”

After 15 years, Ryan said he’s humbled by the number of YATC students who’ve turned their dreams of a performing arts career into reality. Alumni Bobby Conte Thornton “just opened as one of the leads in a Bronx Tale on Broadway,” said Ryan. “It’s a little strange, because I feel the same age.”

“It’s so cool for kids who are starting out to literally be in a cabin with kids who are working for Disney.”

At the beginning of each camp, students participate in an intention workshop to help them articulate their goals and interests, said Ryan. About a decade ago, a girl named Jillian raised her hand and announced her desire to star as Glinda in the Broadway production of Wicked, then a new play.

A few years later, after she graduated from Boston Conservatory, Ryan got a call letting him know that she’d debuted as the understudy for Glinda on Broadway. “It’s so clear that a lot of what made them successful are the skills that they learned not just from the camp, but from the people who come to teach at the camp,” he said.

Sometimes, even YATC staff are overwhelmed by the level of talent on display, said Ryan. During a singalong two years ago, one young camper asked if she could sing a song from Frozen, since she’d originated the role.

Ryan said a counselor approached him privately with concerns that one of the campers might be a fibber who could be subjected to teasing. After he explained that the girl in question was Katie Anderson-Lopez — whose parents wrote the songs for Disney’s newest classic — the counselor was reassured.

“It’s so cool for kids who are starting out, or who aren’t professional to literally be in a cabin with kids who are working for Disney because it takes the level of celebrity out,” said Ryan. “Because these are some of the brightest and most unique kids from around the world, they’re going to teach each other, and that creates this wonderful energy.”

Ryan said about 20% of YATC attendees are homeschooled, “a new market for us.” Because of the camp’s focus on each attendees’ individual interests, “they’re starting to hear that this is the place to be,” he said.

There's a great selection of Winter Camps on Outschool. Click through to see the full list including Young Actor's Theatre Camp. You can enroll, ask questions or sign-up for regular updates.

Amir Nathoo

Amir is co-founder and CEO of Outschool. He previously worked at Square leading the Square Payroll product and founded Trigger.io before that. He is a board member of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.

San Francisco https://outschool.com

Subscribe to Love Learning

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

or subscribe via RSS with Feedly!

Inspire Kids to Love Learning with Classes on Outschool