The quick CT tour finished this morning at Camp Happiness in Milford, CT. I’ve been playing this special needs camp for over 10 years, I think, and it remains one of my favorite gigs during the years. The kids know my material and the counselors do, too, so these folks are primed and ready to play with me. I like to start out asking what tunes they want, and, invariably The Cat Came Back and Peanut Butter come up along with Baby Shark. I also got requests for Wheels on the Bus and Twinkle, Twinkle but remarked that those tunes were above my pay scale.
I started out with Watermelon on the Vine with my big ‘ooooh’ beginning and wrap around slurp. It’s a good way to involve the audience in a non-threatening way and get the crowd to hear themselves in the space. I then headed into the Cat Came Back.
I have been able to feel free enough with this supportive audience to try some spontaneous theatrical gambles and today provided some nice humor. Last year I had the different levels sing the chorus like cats, opera, rap, etc., but I was open to do something different today. I noticed a counselor who wasn’t singing the chorus, so I asked him to come up in front of the camp. The other counselors were delighted, and glad that it wasn’t them. I said that he didn’t have to sing it, but he would lip-sync it with the campers doing the vocals. I stressed that he had to really present the song with feeling and movement. I then stopped and said I was going to up the stakes and handed him one of my mikes from my equipment bag, not that I would dare plug it in.
He did a rather tame job but with minimal hand motions. I said that I would up the stakes again and invited another counselor to come up and do some stage movements to help out his friend. This guy showed some great hip shaking, arm motions, and, before we did it, I said I was going to up the stakes again and got out cool shades for them both to wear. We were ready. The place rocked with the kids, counselors and staff watching these two guys perform in front of their peers. I felt a little bad about the shy counselor and thanked him several times during and after the set. The good thing I think I achieved is that the kids got to see someone in their community (and not a camper) come out of his shell and be supported by his friends.
One of the counselors had graduated over the years to stage manager, getting paid to set up the auditorium and help me get my stuff in and out. Appropriately his name was Mike. He took it upon himself to drag out some of the high school set pieces behind the scenes at the auditorium, set up trees, scenery, a cardboard stove and refrigerator and two jalopy flats behind me, created some lighting on them, played some intro music as the kids came in. He had a real knack and intelligence about ‘setting the stage’ which really impressed me for a young kid. He loved doing it and I was glad to acknowledge his efforts to the camp. He did a great ‘Super Star’ from the sound board in the back when I did.
Again, it wouldn’t be possible without the support of this staff (and Marlene) and these counselors who put in a lot of time, effort and love with these kids every summer. They pay me well but they really look forward to my show every year and support what I do artistically.
It was slow drive back on I-95 through CT and NY but I arrived home mid afternoon feeling that this quick trip to CT and back was a very good tour.
The Cat went to Camp Happiness cause he heard it was very cool,
Til one of the counselors took him by the tail and threw him in the pool.
(everyone mimed whirling the cat by the tail over their heads and heaving it a long ways away, with a big a kersplash..)
When he got out, he had a damp sassiness,
He said, “So this is how it goes at Camp Happiness.”