"The car ride home is a bookend of the SDM experience which brings each season to a close." (stock image courtesy Microsoft Office Images)
A lot of things overwhelm a camper when they're in the car, or on the bus, going home after Stagedoor. The busiest 48 hours of the three-week performing arts camp is performance weekend, which leaves people exhausted yet fulfilled in their SDM experience. Two performances (not including the dress rehearsal from the previous day) plus two opportunities to see other shows is enough to wear anybody out.
The entire weekend culminates in the final hours of the last night of camp. After the last of the performances finish up, all of the campers head to the Playhouse Theatre where the award ceremony is held. This last official camp event opens with the artistic staff affectionately satirizing a musical number from one of the musicals performed during that session. Awards range from "Most Improved" to "Outstanding Performance by an Actor" to "Outstanding Ensemble." They celebrate the hard work and leadership of campers who have demonstrated their capabilities and talents as performers and team players.
Immediately after the ceremony come the maudlin goodbyes in the court yard outside of the boys' dorm. Campers exchange contact information and plans for the upcoming winter. Some try to coordinate meet ups in a city or perhaps synchronize college trips and other opportunities to catch up during the year, but most of all they remind each other that they'll reunite in the same place at the same time next year. They assure their fellow campers with hackneyed yet truthful phrases such as "Not goodbye but until next year."
For those who graduate, the good byes are more sentimental. They are their final sign offs and good bye to what was once their second home. As one can imagine, the goodbyes take at least a solid hour, and even then counselors have difficulty clearing the court yard.
A few hours later, the camp is absent of campers. The rooms are empty as are the theaters, the scenery is dismantled, the props and costumes are put away and all that remains is the staff. For a camper, after the bags are packed and the check out process is complete, its now time to move on to the rest of the summer.
The instantaneous transition from performance weekend/the last night to returning home makes the past three weeks seem dreamlike. All of this manifests itself in the car when a camper reflects on their work and time spent at Stagedoor. Its an overwhelming moment of nostalgia which campers embrace in their own ways. Some campers immediately get on their phones and start keeping in touch with the new friends they've met. Some make plans with their friends from home while others just sleep or begin their summer reading for school.
My mother and I, for example, always take a pit stop at the local Dunkin' Donuts near SDM before heading back to New York City. For me, its the first step in easing out of camp life and back into normal, every day life. My mother and I have done this since my first session at Stagedoor. Regardless, everyone feels a bit of remorse about leaving the camp. For some, this may just have been an experience with some memorable moments, but for others, it may have been a traditional part of the summer whose closing has long been an integral part of a campers life.
In the car ride home, I've always found it best to not dwell on the past - to not think about what I should have done differently in a show or what I should have said to a friend. The car ride home is a bookend of the SDM experience which brings each season to a close. If anything, I think a camper should be thankful for their time at SDM and to those who made their three weeks special.
But just as one lives in the moment there, its important to continue living in the moment outside of camp. Everyone is off to their next big thing, and they should look forward to it with anticipation. And with that anticipation growing while departing down Karmel and Jacobs Road, a camper signs off from Stagedoor Manor for the year.
For more information on Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center, visit www.stagedoormanor.com.