As J’Mya Smith contemplated the power of theater, she thought about the diverging interpretations that might emerge when two people take turns playing a single character.

“Even though they play the same role, there’s a different perspective because they’re doing it a different way,” said J’Mya, who’s 14 and heading into ninth grade next year.

J’Mya is participating in a theater summer camp at The Arts & Science Center of Southeast Arkansas, in Pine Bluff, and she’s fascinated by the way a single part can tap various chords in various people. She’s also pleased by the way the lighting, the fly system, the stage backdrop and other elements of a production can harmonize to make something creative, something whole.

The way J’Mya sees a panoply of parts and emotions emerging – and also uniting – in a theater project encapsulates, in a way, the hopes of the people involved in the Arts & Science Center’s vastly expanded summer camp of 2018. They hope to see children tap all sorts of different strengths as they unite to create a public production.

“This is our very first time for expanding our summer camp to be a junior play production,” said Leonor Colbert, public programs coordinator for The Arts & Science Center of Southeast Arkansas. “It’s not just five days of doing theater exercise. We’re actually putting on a junior play.”

Preparing for the public

That play is a kind of double-feature for the public is slated for 2 p.m. on July 13 and July 14, with students performing “It’s Not Ugly...It’s Art!” by Gary Ray Stapp and “Peggy the Pint-Sized Pirate,” by D. M. Larson. Regular tickets are $12, with students paying $8 and parties of five or more paying $5 a ticket. Those performances will be the product of the center’s four-week camp – a dramatic expansion, as Colbert said, of the camps in past summers that only lasted a few days.

Colbert said the center expanded the program in response to community feedback noting the desire for “more theater – and (especially) more youth theater.”

Many people in the community, Colbert explained, wanted to see their children develop a “greater appreciation for and understanding of the arts,” and they also wanted their children to cultivate overall communication skills.

Colbert stressed the many facets of creativity that contribute to the camp.

“It’s not just acting to put on a play,” she added. “We take a very holistic approach to theater production. The children are able to realize their own interests and their own aptitudes ... If they don’t want to be acting, and they want to be working on, say, lighting design, then that is an opportunity for them to make a substantial contribution to the play.”

Colbert said about 30 students, from ages 7 to 17, are participating in this summer’s camp. The play “It’s Not Ugly...It’s Art!” is more appropriate for older children, she said, and the shorter “Peggy the Pint-Sized Pirate” is more suited to the younger players.

Creating ‘The Stage’

Colbert said, too, that The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas recently landed a grant from the Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation – listed at $35,000 on the center’s website – that will help fund the expanded summer theater program in the future. It will also fund other related theater projects, such as after-school programs, “outreach into Pine Bluff School District classes,” professional development workshops for area educators and online toolkits with interdisciplinary lesson plans.

The center is using the title of “The Stage,” Colbert explained, as the name to encompass the wide-reaching theater work. The website describes The Stage as “a makerspace for innovation and creativity through theatre” and emphasizes the multifaceted nature of that “makerspace,” cultivating “directing, acting, playwriting, scenery construction, costume design, light and sound design, stage management, playbill design, and marketing and promotion of productions.”

For the students participating in the summer theater camp on Tuesday, the whole world of the theater seemed to fire their imaginations.

Siyaz Ervin, a 10-year-old fifth-grader this fall, liked the interplay of the colored lights, and he’s enjoyed the construction that’s accompanied rehearsals. Dajanai Johnson, a 15 year-old 10th-grader, has enjoyed the way theater evokes a wide swath of emotions.

“You can see each other’s different sides,” Dajanai said. “You can see them be happy, you can see them be sad.”

‘Creativity is creativity’

Justin Pike, the director for the summer theater camp, crouched down with students as he coached them through their parts on Tuesday. Just before lunch, he directed his attention to a couple of students practicing in front of him, and then he turned to a larger group and introduced the process of coming in on cue – or in this case, roaring on cue. Pike said many of the students are working on their first stage production, so they’re just learning concepts such as stage directions.

Pike is the artistic director for The Studio Theatre in Little Rock, and there he works with students from ages 13 to 23.

“Most of that group (in Little Rock) started when they were, like, 6,” he said, and then he added with a chuckle. “They’re like old veterans by the time they’re 12.”

But that doesn’t mean, he said, that the two groups – in Little Rock and Pine Bluff – don’t share some key traits.

“Creativity is creativity,” he said, “and that’s not exclusive to experience. All the same elements are there.”

Jerry Marcellius Horton, a 10-year-old summer-camp participant about to enter 6th grade, saw the creativity that emerged with theater as a little – or maybe even a lot – like just playing casually with other children. But he did see a difference.

“When you’re playing with kids, you’re not even trying,” Jerry said. “With acting, you’ve got to try.”

The summer theater camp costs $600 for members of The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, and $680 for those who are not members. Colbert said the center offers scholarships based on income, and she noted that most of this summer’s participants received full or partial scholarships. Funding for scholarships comes from a cluster of organizations, including The Simmons Foundation, The Windgate Charitable Foundation, The Ben J. Altheimer Charitable Foundation and Synergy Forum, Inc. She cited Simmons Bank as a sponsor for the public production of the summer camp plays.

People seeking more information can call 870-536-3375 or visit https://www.asc701.org.