By Bryanna Allen | Correspondent.
Some swam through the air while others sat atop a make-believe battleship, peering out over a make-believe ocean.
At a quick glance, it would’ve looked as if the group of half a dozen kids were simply playing.
They were, but there was more to it than that.
The Rutland Recreation Department offers a summer theater camp for kids in kindergarten through second grade, during which they write and act in their own plays.
“A lot of people assume that kids these ages are too young to write plays because they aren’t usually old enough to actually write,” said Saskia Hagen Groom, the instructor for the camp and the Rutland Youth Theatre director.
She said, however, because of their ages, writing plays comes naturally to them. They just need to be coached.
“Children know stories, they’re exposed to them through bedtime stories, movies, books and music,” she said. “I just break it down for them, take it step by step in a way they can understand, and then it clicks for them.”
That step-by-step process looks a little bit like a class in school, but is more fun.
Hagen Groom stood at a white board on Tuesday morning and asked about emotions, themes, characters and plotline conflicts, but in a way that appealed to the average first-grader.
She asked them to talk about their feelings, good and bad. She got feedback about what kind of stories they liked, something funny or adventurous, or was there a bad guy? She prompted them with examples from movies such as “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.”
When she talked about the play-making process in a way they could relate to, they started squirming with excitement and raising their hands to add their thoughts.
Liam Ettori, 6, showed off the first version of his script.
It didn’t actually include any words, but the page was filled with drawings, and Liam himself didn’t lack an explanation about what the play was about.
“It’s about this person who goes exploring,” Liam said, pointing to a pencil sketch of a stick figure on a ship. “He finds this soldier, and then they go exploring together and find some mermaids.”
Liam said his favorite part about working on his own plays is that he gets to have the characters do whatever he wants, and then at the end of the camp, they act out all of the plays for the parents.
“I have a lot of fun wearing costumes,” he said.
Miles Allen, 13, knows where that enthusiasm is coming from, and that’s why he volunteered to help out with the group of campers.
He was about the same age as Liam when he first joined the summer camp and wrote his first play, and he looks back on it fondly.
“As a little kid, I always had notebooks with fragments of stories,” he said. “They were just stories about my imagination and what was going on around me.”
Allen said he loved watching and helping the kids develop their ideas and turn them into plays, and he never thought they were too young to create stories of their own.
If you think about it, when they play with stuffed animals, they’re creating a story line and characters,” he said. “It’s the same thing because it’s just playing and easy.”
In fact, Hagen Groom said, as people get older it gets harder to harness that creativity and the natural instinct to play.
“Kids are told they need to grow up,” she said. “If they continue to play and make up stories, then they’re told that they’re immature or silly. But that’s not the case at all. Playing is natural.”