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Mainstage Center for the Arts: Ed Fiscella

May 6, 2010

From time to time, I conduct interviews with camp directors to collect advice for parents looking for unique experiences for their kids. I recently exchanged emails with Ed Fiscella of Mainstage Center for the Arts in Blackwood, New Jersey. Mainstage Center for the Arts offers many creative activities for kids, but it was fun to learn Ed’s perspective on camps.

With so many camps to choose from, any tips on how to pick the right camp for your kids?

The most important thing is to find the camp that suits the interests of the children. A child who does not care for soccer should not go to a soccer camp. At Mainstage, we cover a wide range of activities that kids like and that they may not find in other camps that are available. For those who love to sing and dance, we are definitely for them, but also, we have a program for kids who want to make videos and their own film creations. We also have kids who love to build and paint and create with their carpentry or visual arts skills. Also, for those who love to design, be it a costume or a set, we have classes and activities for them. We have sound engineering and recording as well as classes and programs for those interested in light design. As you can see, we can take many kids with many interests, however, it would be a disservice to send a child who really wants to play baseball, or be a cheerleader, to our camp. It is important match the camp to the child’s likes and temperament.

What questions should parents ask a camp?

Safety should always be the first question. What does the camp do to ensure the safety of the campers? What is the staff to camper ratio? How much social time does a camper get each day? What are the discipline policies, ADA policies, and sexual harassment policies? If these policies are not in place, then I would seriously look closer at the camp. I would not necessarily discount them, but it is good to know that the camp has thought about these issues and have come up with policy.

How should parents prepare their kids for camp?

I think the most important way to prepare your child for camp is to be excited about the camp and about the experience the camper will have. I think every parent should have an attitude that says, ” I am so excited for you because you are going to have so much fun, learn so much, and this is going to be great for you.”

Since every camp will have its own special requirements, beyond the positive attitude, the parents should carefully check the camp requirements and make sure that the camper is ready to be totally engaged and comfortable.

The summer is long, and many kids are in 6 – 10 sessions of camp. Any tips on how to prevent camp burnout?

Burn-out is a concern and that is why at Summer Stage, we break up our day, change our classes, and vary the activities each week to keep the program fresh. Instead of doing just one show in a summer, we offer each child a chance to be in two of them and to see 4 of them. All in all, we offer 8 different shows in a 7 week period. This keeps everybody truly engaged and excited because it never gets stale.

Any last tips for parents?

Be careful not to be over protective, especially if this is their first camp experience. Your child may be showing signs of separation anxiety, however, give the camp at least a week. I tell our parents, “they may not love it after the first day, but by the end of the first week, you will know if they love it, or if it is not for them.” And if it is not for them, then I suggest taking them out.

Also, many parents come to us and ask that their child be placed with their friends. This is very limiting not only to the camp, but also for the child. We find that a balance is essential. At Summer Stage the campers have times each day when they can be with their friends, however, they also have opportunities to meet new people and to develop great new friendships. I think looking for a balance is important.

Lastly, please tell us what’s special about Summer Stage 2010 at Mainstage Center for the Arts?

I think what makes Summer Stage a special place is something that goes beyond the programs that we offer. Everyone in the area is aware of the quality we put into each and every show, but what makes us different is the “family” atmosphere we have. Every kid and every parent becomes part of our extended family and you feel that you are in a place where everyone cares about you, personally. Not only that, but you feel safe, protected and secure. When parents drop their kids off in the morning and find that the Executive Director is available every day in the parking lot, talking to kids, talking to parents, and just being present, you get the sense that the organization is not so big that you get lost.

Also, being located on a college campus also provides us with 24/7 professional security officers, a full service dining room where a great variety of cold and hot lunches and snacks are available, free parking, air conditioned rooms, and a various spaces for our campers to work and play.

We also hire about 75 staff who are trained and well qualified. Many of our staff are Summer Stage alumni who returned because they love the program and want to give back to new generations of kids. We also hire costumers so that it is not parents who need to be sewing and making costumes, set designers and staff to build and paint the scenery, and a full time office staff to handle anything that might come up. In addition, there is one job we have that we feel is essential. We hire a certified school nurse to be on site and available during the day while the children are present. We see this as absolutely essential.

Finally, our program is not just about rehearsal and performing. The campers get individual attention and make new life-long friends. They are also provided with great training in the performing arts, lots of activities, as well as social activities such as camp dance, field days, pizza parties and the like. Every child also gets to see all of our shows as part of the program. Not only are they the camper, but they are the audience too.

I think the best thing about Summer Stage is that it is flexible enough to be whatever the camper needs it to be. It is not just about those who have the most talent. We don’t turn anyone away. Any child who has the desire to be on the stage gets their chance to be a star at Mainstage Center for the Art’s Summer Stage camp. When I sit back and look at what we offer at Summer Stage- it really is amazing.

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