Students' creativity comes alive at reality TV camp

They're the kind of products that would never carry the words "As seen on TV." A winged backpack that flies you to school on time. An exploding water bomb that thwarts school bullies. A clothes hanger-shaped boomerang for felling a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Those who conjured up the products also created corresponding commercials, and you won't see those on television, either. They're courtesy of the imagination of students at the Columbia-based Drama Learning Center, who last week took part in a weeklong summer camp called TV Stars: Reality TV & Commercials.

The camp is one of many summer offerings for a company that for more than 25 years, has exposed local students from pre-kindergarten to the 12th grade to theater through camps, classes and year-round live performances.

The Reality TV and Commercials camp, which was held for the first time last year, is among two television-based performance camps offered by the center this summer. The other is a camp for music videos and sitcoms. Other camps being offered over the summer deal with music and Broadway shows.

"The times change, and you have to keep your fingers on the pulse of what kids are interested in," said Stephanie Williams, DLC owner and artistic director. "I've been here since 2006. When I first started, the big craze was 'High School Musical.' "

The reality TV camp is for youngsters in kindergarten through the 10th grade. It not only gives students an opportunity to channel their inner Kardashians but to learn all aspects of television production. Groups of students including a producer, director and camera person develop scripts for a reality TV episode and interview local businesspeople for segments.

Students conjure up their own scripts and, in keeping with technology they're familiar with, record the commercials and shows on iPads.

"Obviously, technology has changed their interests a lot," Williams said of the campers. "We try to keep our older students engaged on Facebook, and we thought shooting this with the iPad would be exciting for them because a lot of them know how to use that technology already at a young age."

Last year, Williams said, campers did their own versions of popular reality TV entertainment shows: "DLC Got Talent" and "DLC Idol."

Camp counselor Anna Wehr of Ellicott City, who years ago was a camper taking part in one of the first "High School Musical" camps, said students this year came up reality TV offerings including a game show, a dating show and a murder mystery.

The camp is a hit with students such as Maddie Anessi, 10, of Columbia, who said she's been attending Drama Learning Center camps for four years.

"I like it because I like acting. I feel like I'm really good at it, and my mom says I am," said Maddie. "And I have a passion for it, too."

Sierra Suarez, 12, a Woodbine resident, took to Drama Learning Center after watching many of the company's performances at her school, Glenwood Middle School. She came to the camp a big fan of the Lifetime reality TV show "Dance Moms."

Sierra was part of a group that created the product aimed at school bullies: water bombs. During the group's commercial, she is seen being shoved to the ground by bullies who demand her lunch money, and she uses a ball-shaped puffy object resembling a water bomb to scare them away.

Students spent the week fine-tuning their commercials and shows. Sierra said she was looking forward to "the performances we'll do on the last day of camp in front of all of the parents."

Ewan Ball, 15, from Scaggsville, said he enjoys performing the commercials and prefers legal dramas on TruTV. "I can imagine that it's actually happening to someone," he said.

The students are guided through every take of their shows and commercials by Megan Henderson of Columbia, a program director who, at 20, has been involved at Drama Learning Center since she began attending at age 6. She said it doesn't take long for the young students to get into the act.

"With this group, one of the challenges is they tend to over think things. You just want them to grab something and go with it and definitely bring them out of their shells," Henderson said.

"But even in the past days, they've gone from sitting quietly to where we need to quiet them down," she said. "Usually it takes a day."

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