Camp on the Coast: Creating Leaders in Life and on the Stage

Camp on the Coast at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Camp on the Coast, a Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Summer Theatre Workshop, is a two-week residential camp designed for high school students seeking a highly intensive and creative theatre experience. Participants rehearse and perform in a one-act play directed by one of five highly successful theatre educators. Students study acting, voice, and movement in classes taught by TAMU-CC theatre faculty. Returning campers take a three-hour master class in acting and movement. Technical theatre students attend classes in design, participate in the creation of each production’s sets, lighting, and costumes, and serve as crew for the shows.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – It’s a theatre camp that teaches more than acting, lighting, props and costume design – it’s an immersive experience promoting creativity, comradery and healthy competition. More than 120 of the best high school theatre students from around the state attended Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Camp on the Coast 2018, an intensive two-week summer program for students whose skillsets range from novice to leading lady/gentleman.

There are many players who make up a successful camp cast. There are, of course, the students. Then, there are the camp counselors, who are Islander theatre majors. The theatre directors include five of the best high school teachers from around the state, plus one Islander faculty. Last, but not least, there are the camp directors – Kelly Russell, Professor and Director of Theatre, and Alison Frost, Associate Professor of Theatre.

Maddie Ott, from Timber Creek High School, located north of Fort Worth, was back for her third year of Camp on the Coast.

“Every year I go to camp, I come back to my home campus with renewed confidence, knowing I can play more difficult roles,” said the 17-year-old, who is considering a career as an actress. “My favorite part of camp is working with different students, directors and camp counselors, and forming strong relationships with them in such a short period of time.”

Allan Hsiao, who attends Beijing City International School in China, is also attending camp for the third year.

“I come from a very small school in Beijing – there are only five students in my theatre department,” said Hsiao.

His first year at camp, Hsiao signed up to be an actor. Years two and three, the technical parts of theatre are his focus.

“At my local school, we would never have access to these crazy light fixtures and rigs, and here, we get to experiment with thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment,” said Hsiao, who plans to come back to camp for a fourth year.

Hsiao says even though he’s thousands of miles from home – it takes 40 hours of travel and seven flights to get from China to South Texas – he hasn’t been stricken with homesickness.

“The sense of community and family build together at camp,” he said, “and I don’t think anybody has been homesick. Everyone is so eager to learn and absorb all the lessons.”

Jennifer Jones, a Texas A&M-Corpus Christi theatre major, is not only a camp counselor but was also a two-time Camp on the Coast camper. Jones, who is considering a career in theatre education, explains that her experience as a camper versus a counselor are wildly different, but equally enriching.

“As a camper, your days are filled with learning lines and attending classes, and as a counselor, your days are filled with ensuring campers get to rehearsals on time, memorize their lines, and you also act as support staff for the directors.”

Camp on the Coast, which is in its 14th year, mostly fills with students from around the state versus student from the local region. The main reason is because the camp’s one-act plays are directed by UIL-award winning high school teachers who come from around Texas, and who, in turn, recruit students from their local districts. One of those teacher-directors is Josh Harriman, from Keller ISD, who has attended Camp on the Coast for the past seven years.

“I have so much passion for educational theatre,” said Harriman. “It teaches grit and working together to accomplish a goal. It teaches competition and creativity. Anybody can Google an answer but being creative is the next great skill that kids need for the workforce. The value of this camp is endless, both for the kids and the adults.”

No good show is possible without skill coming from behind the curtain – which includes seasoned Island University professors Frost and Russell. Frost has been associated with the camp for nine years, while Russell has been there since its inception in 2005.

“Developing young people into leaders is what we do best,” said Frost. “Every theatrical production has a variety of components from costuming, props, scenery, lighting, special effects, sound, acting, stage managing – all of these avenues require leadership, follow through, and creation, and, through successes and mistakes in those areas, students learn valuable leadership lessons.”

Russell has seen the camp nearly double in size, from 65 students its first year, to more than 120 this year, and says, in the past few years, close to 100 Islander theatre majors have attended Camp on the Coast.

“All the arts come together for theatre, and that’s why our camp is so popular,” said Russell. “Theatre is unique because it takes a huge amount of collaboration. The students here not only improve their stage skills, but they also grow their confidence and their ability to communicate. It’s incredible how much they can accomplish in just two weeks.”