Summer Program and Activity Ideas For Performing Arts Students
By Meg, IvyWise Premier College Admissions Counselor
Do you play the violin or clarinet? Sing? Are you a freestyle rapper? Like to compose songs? Dream of a career on Broadway? Summer break offers exciting opportunities for teens who are performing artists to further develop and enhance their skills and talents. Using time away from school to explore creative fields or delve more deeply into artistic areas of interest can make for an enjoyable and productive summer, and help you stand out when it comes time to apply to college.
Summer Arts Programs
While many summer performing arts camps and programs are highly selective and require students to submit applications (including audio and/or video recordings) as early as the December prior to the summer they hope to attend the camp, other programs offer rolling or open admission and are designed for novices who are seeking an introduction to a particular field.
For many students, the opportunity to attend good-fit summer arts programs may have passed, but it’s never too early for current freshman and sophomores to look into certain programs in order to plan for next summer.
It’s important, of course, for families to be prepared to invest time researching program options. I urge students to speak with their local music and art teachers in addition to investigating online programs in other places. The cost of summer performing arts programs will vary greatly, however, some programs offer generous scholarships and financial aid.
If you’re interested in classical music…
For accomplished instrumentalists who are interested in classical music, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) is considered a premier training program for aspiring young musicians and is associated with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, one of the world’s great symphony orchestras.
For students outside the US, the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra (VFJO) is an international program for 15 to 18 year olds in a picturesque town in the Swiss alps. Outstanding musicians from all over the world are selected by audition to attend an intensive camp that includes performances at the famous Verbier Festival.
Students often discover that attending an on-campus summer music program provides a glimpse of a college or university and its resources. For example, the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College in Ohio offers a series of music and voice programs during the summer months. The programs last from one to two weeks and entail working with faculty, attending daily master classes as well as individual and group coaching sessions, and learning audition and performance techniques, among other skills. Depending on the program, participants may also be eligible to receive college credit.
If you’re interested in jazz…
From day camp programs for middle schoolers to their Jazz Institute, the Stanford Jazz Workshop at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, offers a wide range of summer jazz immersion experiences. Younger students can elect more structured programs while older, mature students will delight in taking classes with and performing alongside highly accomplished jazz musicians from around the world.
If you’re interested in acting, drama, or theater…
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh offers pre-college summer programs in drama and music that allow talented high school students to experience professional theater training and to get a sense of the rigorous demands of college-level performing arts programs in acting, music theater, and design/production.
I’d also recommend investigating Stage Door Manor in Upstate New York. According to the camp’s website, “Before there was Glee or American Idol, there was Stagedoor Manor, a theater camp in the Catskills where casting directors came to find the next generation of stars. It’s where Natalie Portman, Robert Downey Jr., Ansel Elgort, Lea Michele, Jon Cryer and many others got their start as kids. Since 1976, a new crop of campers have stepped onto these stages each summer to begin an intense, thrilling and magical introduction to professional theater. Every three weeks, 14 full-scale productions come to life. The faculty – all seasoned professionals – demand adult-size dedication and performances from the kids.”
Acting Manitou is an outstanding theater arts camp in Maine. The camp’s website states that Manitou’s mission is to “create an artistic haven for our campers and staff, free of external pressures. Campers at Acting Manitou grow as both people and performers, developing confidence in themselves and important skills of collaboration and communication.”
If you’re interested in a music career…
Aspiring pop stars may want to audition for Grammy Camp, a selective, 5-day nonresidential summer music industry program for high school students interested in having a career in music. It is hosted by Belmont University in Nashville and USC Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles, and students apply for one of the offered career tracks: audio engineering, electronic music production, songwriting, vocal performance, music journalism, video and motion graphics, music business and instrumental performance. Grammy Camp faculty as well as guest industry professionals provide coaching and share valuable insights about how to pursue careers in the music industry.
Find Opportunities Close to Home
Unable or not interested in going away over the summer? There are numerous ways to develop and expand your performing arts skills and talents without leaving home.
- Take a Music Theory course online.
- Find a new place to sit and write some song lyrics or practice your instrument.
- Cue up some YouTube videos and learn to play the guitar or ukulele.
- Invite some friends over for a jam session.
- Form your own garage band. I’ve known teens who landed a weekly gig playing at a local restaurant on Friday evenings in the summer. Their compensation: As much pizza and salad as they could consume between sets.
- Look around to see if there are younger students in your community who could benefit from your performing arts expertise and coaching. Organize and offer to lead an improvisation or intro to acting group for elementary aged kids under the auspices of a local library or community organization.
- Share your musical talents with the residents of a nursing home.
- Ask a local coffee bar or ice cream shop if they would like you to organize an open mic night at which teens could perform for customers.
- Volunteer or seek out an internship at a local arts organization that sponsors performances during the summer.
Learning how to and taking the initiative to hone your skills while also making an impact in your local community can make for a worthwhile summer experience and help you stand out when applying to college.
Work on Your Portfolio
If you’re planning to submit a performing arts supplement with your applications, the summer before senior year is typically the best time to set aside time to research the requirements of each institution and prepare your supplements, which often involve recordings, accordingly. Take time to pull together materials for your portfolio or supplement, and get creative with your presentation.
The summer before senior year is also a great time to prepare for any auditions should you apply to performing arts programs that require them. The audition is another opportunity to stand out when applying to a performing arts program, so take time to select a piece of music, song, or monologue that demonstrates your strengths and sets you apart from other applicants. Practice makes perfect, so dedicate time this summer to practicing and rehearsing, so when it comes time to audition you’re confident and prepared.
The key to a successful summer of exploring the performing arts is to allow yourself to let your true interests, curiosity, and creativity guide you! Make the most of the resources to which you have access and let your artistic spirit loose!
To learn more about Meg, read her biography and watch her video here!