The middle school-age students are immersed in multiple aspects of the theatrical craft, including makeup. They get guidance not only from the pros who run the classes, but "camp counselors" — alumni of Camp Hippodrome who volunteer to come back and help out.

As the week progresses, the campers' energies are directed more and more toward the grand finale, a performance on the stage of the Hippodrome for family and friends. (Backstage equipment is run during one of the finales by high school students participating in a two-day Tech Camp.)

"If you're talented, the camp is going to bring that out and improve your chances of getting into the Baltimore School for the Arts," Waxter said. "If not, you're still going to learn how to work together and gain self-confidence."

Building confidence is a key message at Camp Hippodrome. It's difficult enough just being 12 or 13; being a kid who loves acting or singing or dancing can make things even tougher.

One of the two ensemble numbers for the campers in this year's stage presentation addresses that issue head-on — "Freak Flag" from the 2008 show "Shrek the Musical." Sample lyrics: "We spend our whole lives wishing we weren't so freakin' strange. They made us feel that way, but it's they who need to change ... Hey, world, I'm different, and here I am."

The group songs get energetic choreography, complete with the classic hands-upraised, all-smiles big finish.

In between those rousers, several students offer monologues from assorted plays. The topics can get pretty serious, dealing with death, broken homes, alienation and, of course, being different — "The ugliest word in the English language," as Cynthia Mercati's monologue "Makin' It" has it.

Delivering such lines alone on an empty stage makes a good test of a budding actor's skills.

"Yeah, it was tough," said Jordan Jackson, 12, after performing the Mercati monologue, "but I got through it."

That kind of determination is easy to find among the campers.

After performing in the finale to the first camp week, Kaiyana Spivey, 12, darted through the lobby with a broad smile and a simple declaration: "I will be a famous singer, actor and dancer."

Among the Week 2 participants was Mikaela Alderite, 11, who got the entertainment bug from her grandfather, a singer.

"I've kind of grown into the theater business," she said. "I want to learn more stuff. I'm looking forward to getting on the [Hippodrome] stage. It's really big. I'll have to grow into that."

Twelve-year-old Anthony Johnson, who enjoyed being in the audience for "Wicked" and "Beauty and the Beast" at the Hippodrome last season, is ready for the spotlight — the bright spotlight — sooner rather than later.

"I really love performing, but I've always loved engineering and science, too, and I don't want to forget that," he said. "But I'd like to be in a Broadway show — while I'm still a kid."

tim.smith@baltsun.com

Camp information

Camp Hippodrome continues July 8 to 12. There is a waiting list. For more information on future camps and other educational programs, call the Hippodrome Foundation, 410-727-7787 ex 104, or go to hippodromefoundation.org.