Young Actors’ Theatre Camp, or YATC (pronounced y-at-ick), is a place that can only be described with the sort of feelings usually saved for magical places like Disneyland. YATC, founded by Shawn Ryan and John Ainsworth, proves you don’t need crazy thrill rides or greasy turkey legs to experience that same magic… at 4,000 feet in the middle of a forest with no internet.
That may sound ridiculous for this day and age (no Wi-Fi?!), but these talented kids and their awesome counselors hardly miss it. Their days are filled with classes, activities, and guests who made it where these kids dream to be. Although the camp was created for children interested in the theatre, a quality film component is expanding, leading to the creation of a film program during this year’s winter camp session. Until then, the students have enjoyed Film Lab, during which they learn the ins and outs of making movies of any genre: musicals, horror, sci-fi, comedy, and more!
Camper Joe Culberg-McClung enjoys Film Lab, where he recently experienced shirt-ripping and applesauce-chugging.
“All the teachers say here, it doesn’t matter if your passion is theatre or musical theatre, you still should know how to work behind the camera or do film, because you never know when that’s gonna come in handy,” says Joe. “You just want as many actor tools in your belt as you can get.”
Film teacher Aryn Winslow started as a camper and actor at YATC, and has stayed on for ten years this December. The film component of the camp has grown exponentially since she started coming to YATC.
“It started actually as the kids would do scenes, like we would recreate scenes. Back when I was a camper, we did like The Breakfast Club in the cabin. And then we had the students kind of start writing their own, but because no one really knew the format because they’re just high school students or just middle schools students,” says Winslow, reviewing the growth of the inclusion of film at the camp. “They didn’t really know how to structure it properly, we started writing the scripts and giving them to the kids. From there, for the last two years, we have expanded our script library and the kids have started bringing up their own. As film teachers, we take it and we expand a full story out of it. It’s still they wrote, they’re integral in making the film, rather than simply being handed a script”
As the students learned more about film, so did the counselors and directors. According to counselor and actress Natalie Brice, the camp has risen their film quality and film focus more recently.
“There’s so many more components to the films. There’s producing and editing. Everyone kind of gets their own title in it,” says Brice. “It’s like training them for film festival quality films. Ever since Shawn [Ryan] went to the Cannes Film Festival … we’ve been upping our game.”
Both Winslow and Brice agree that film industry knowledge is vital for any kind of actor, and any kind of artist, pointing out that most theatre camps should start to expand to help kids find their paths of expression.
“I think camps in general, while they are an educational experience, can be specialized, and should allow the artist to explore different areas of theatre, art, film. I would love it if we had an instrumental program here. I just think that would be great, because a lot of kids – like, Natalie plays piano,” says Winslow. “I think it would be great if we had a music theory class. Not just singing, but learning how to play instruments, if you like it. Like, just let the artist explore the feel and decide what they want to do.”
With the camp’s stretch into film comes an interest in voice acting, especially with growing respect for the animation industry, including video games and cartoons.
“We do have a lot of voice one-on-ones,” says Brice. “Ever since this year, the kids have been really interested in it.”
“Because the whole anime/video game/cartoon subculture is kind of coming out a little more,” Winslow adds. “The geek culture, as I like to call it, is becoming more prevalent in society. It’s definitely something I think we should expand on. The kids are definitely interested in it.”
In addition to their growing film focus, YATC has classes focused on dancing, singing, acting, voice, and master classes with guests working in various fields. Most recently, the camp played host to stage star Terry Ross, and TV comedians Heather Olt and Todd Sherry. The camp has also hosted stars like Glee‘s Darren Criss, Starkid Productions’ Joey Richter and Lauren Lopez, and Candi Milo of Adventure Time and Animaniacs.
All of the kids love the camp, even those who might not be pursuing theatre or acting careers. Joe Culberg-McClung is an aspiring musician while camper Grace Weinswig is interested in becoming a surgeon. For the kids, the reason for being at camp doesn’t always hinge on their careers but on the environment of the camp itself.
“Like you come to this place and everybody loves what they’re doing, wants to get better,” says camper Veronica Saunders. “It’s kind of inspiring, to just be walking around with someone who loves what they do and loves what you do.”
“I’ve seen kids on the stage for the first time, and I’m looking at the now like ‘Oh my gosh, look at them coming out of their shell.’ They’re really talented,” says Joe. “And if they had never come here, they might never have come out of their shell, and they might never have really expressed what they love. They never would have become themselves.”
Regardless of what each child, 8 to 18, aspires to become, YATC is there to support them and teach them the tools they’ll need to succeed. Every single camper has a blast at Young Actors’ Theatre Camp, with experienced teachers, supportive counselors, amazing classes, fun themed meals that become flash mobs a la High School Musical, and an unforgettable social experience away from the noise of phones, computers, and televisions. “Y-A-T-C, Y-A-T-C, Y-A-T-C, Y-A-T-C, gooooo YATC! Ka-pow!”
Kajsa is a writer from foggy San Francisco, who lived briefly in sunny LA, only to end up in rainy Portland, OR. She spends most of her time writing, binge-watching animated movies, and working in web design. With a soft spot for stop-motion, her favorite films are Coraline, Castle In The Sky, and The Thief and the Cobbler (Recobbled). You can find her on Twitter, or Pinterest, and most other social media @TheKajsaRain, or at Disneyland.