A theatre camp dedicated to providing affordable and accessible arts education to youth is uncertain of the future. Spark! ran the first two weeks of July with students ranging from ages 7-14.

Unable to secure grant funding, organizers were forced to rely on donations and charge a fee for each student. This meant the camp is difficult to justify for students coming from low-income families. Chris dela Cruz, founder of Spark!, explained, “These kids are not normally afforded opportunities to be exposed to performance art as it can be an expensive activity.”

Spark! offers financial aid scholarships to students whose families are unable to afford it. Fundraising efforts for this year were able to offset some of the operating costs, but not all.

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At Spark!, youth learn about theatre under the tutelage of professional artists. Credit: Mat Simpson.

“Initially we were only going to take on five spots for financial aid this year, but there ended up being more of a demand,” dela Cruz said. “About a third of our kids are under financial aid this year.”

However, the camp ends up being offered at a cost to the instructors. “Really, this money now comes from a lack of paying ourselves to do the camp. It’s a sacrifice to allow these kids that have serious interest to learn,” he said.

Students create an original theatre production, including script, set, and costumes. At the end of the camp, they perform for family, friends and community members. Students take classes in the mornings and workshops in the afternoons. Areas of focus include music, musical theatre, puppet making and fight choreography.

The camp gives youth an opportunity to explore theatre and boosts their self-esteem.

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After two weeks of day camp, youth perform an original production. Credit: Mat Simpson.

Paris Ragbir, an 11-year-old technical theatre and design student, is grateful for the camp. “Before Spark! I taught myself how to do some design, but I didn’t have any experience before camp. I definitely want to keep going each year to learn more, it’s the best camp I’ve ever been to!”

Carter Onyschuk, 13, also a design student, was interested in costume and set design when he enrolled and now feels confident to pursue his interests further.

The camp also teaches co-operative learning and empowerment.

“Spark! can help quell any future doubts about themselves later in their life if they think, ‘I can’t make this or talk in front of those people or make new friends’. They then have this experience where they made tons of new friends and were pushed out of their comfort zone. If they ever have doubts, they can think back to this creation they made with a group of their peers and be proud,” said dela Cruz.

Header Image: The day camp gives students an opportunity to explore theatre and gain confidence. Credit: Mat Simpson.

Spark! Youth Camp

To donate, go to their Indiegogo page or mail donations to:

Alberta Avenue Community League
9210 – 118 Avenue
Edmonton AB T5G 0N2

Donations go toward funding classroom materials, instructor fees and administrative fees for the program.