Stepping Into The Zoom Spotlight: My Summer Experience Working At A Virtual Performing Arts Camp

By: Elisheva Hirsch  |  August 27, 2020

By Elisheva Hirsch

This summer I had planned on being in the Poconos organizing night activities, helping counselors and leading cheers as a head counselor at NCSY Camp Maor, a performing arts overnight camp for girls. I have been a camper and counselor there the past three years and was looking forward to taking on this leadership position. But when the world turned upside down, it became clear that, in the interest of everyone’s safety, we would not be engaging in the usual on-campus activities this summer. Instead, founder and director Sari Kahn and assistant director Rena Rubin decided to create a virtual Maor experience called Maor@Home. We worked together with other staff members to convert and adapt the traditional Maor program to the digital space. I welcomed July by covering my bedroom wall with a plastic tablecloth co-opted as a green screen and Amazon Priming some cute blue light glasses — unsure of what to expect but excited to begin.

Maor@Home garnered 45 campers (occupying a total of four bunks) from 25 cities across the United States and Canada. We sent each camper a “Maor box” that included a camp t-shirt, mask, green screen and other supplies they would need. Campers picked between concentrations of acting, singing and dancing, each of which culminated in a final performance. They also chose from a selection of master classes on art, dance, singing and acting which focused on improving skill and technique. Maor’s talented professional staff instructors (choreographer Rhonda Malkin is a former Rockette, play director Rachel Klein is an off-Broadway director — the list goes on) utilized the digital experience as an opportunity to explore new creative spaces with the girls. In addition to being a head counselor, I was the stage manager for the younger campers’ play; my excitement and awe grew daily as I watched our original Zoom play — a spaceship mystery which features the crew members communicating via video — develop into an incredible production. The schedule also included daily bunk time, shiur (Jewish studies learning), and other activities I helped create and run: electives, night activity, chessed, and other special programs. Our goals when planning were to reshape some classic Maor activities for Zoom usage and also take advantage of the opportunity to do things we couldn’t otherwise do at an in-person camp. Some of my favorite memories from camp were the guest workshops from Broadway actors and actresses; our partnership with a Brooklyn public school our assistant director teaches at for a social justice dance program; and writing, filming, and acting in a Murder Mystery night activity.

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in Maor@Home this summer. The performing arts have a unique power to uplift spirits and connect us with each other and ourselves; in Maor, they bring a diverse group of Jewish girls together, creating an energy and atmosphere that is truly indescribable. I learned this summer that this holds true even across state lines and time zones, when new campers fit right in with the old. Although pulling off such an extensive and unprecedented program on such a short notice was hard and stressful at times, it was all well worth the effort seeing the joy it brought so many girls who really needed it during this difficult time, myself included. And hey — if you ever need someone to run a Zoom garbage bag dress fashion show, you know whom to call.