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For child actors, staying in character can be hard. Acting Wild, the Zoological Society’s most popular summer camp, makes acting even more of a challenge when the character is an animal. With someone crowing like a rooster or howling like a monkey six inches away from them, children bit their lips trying to keep a straight face and stay in character during last summer’s Acting Wild camp. By the end of the week, howev- er, campers like Michael Horner-Ibler, 10, of Brookfield were poker-faced pros. Playing a coyote trapped by poachers, he gnawed and gnawed on the “bars” of his cage during the skit “A Poacher’s Tale: A Savanna Adventure.” “Gnawing on bars is sure fun and delicious,” he said with a growl. Choosing the character was natural for him because wolves and coyotes are his favorite animals. “I just really like animals,” he said. “That’s probably the most fun thing about acting – being an animal.”

The five-day summer camp, while focusing primarily on acting, never lost its Zoo roots. Like professional actors who observe the people they’re trying to be, campers went out into the Zoo every day to observe animals. They recorded animals’ color and shape for costuming, movement and behavior for character building, and even imagined what that animal would say if it could talk. The 8- and- 9-year-old campers came up with myriad answers for the animals of the Aquatic & Reptile Center. Give children the chance, said Zoological Society instructor Patty Trinko, and “they express themselves in ways that are

totally impressive.”

One acting activity asked children to imagine themselves in unlikely situa- tions. You’re the local burger joint’s newest employee. You stumble, and onto the floor tumbles a beautiful burger with ketchup everywhere. How would you con- vince a customer his burger hadn’t done a belly flop? One girl knew exactly what she’d do. She looked her “customer” straight in the eye, and, with a swag- ger in her tone, said, “That’s our special sauce.” Acting Wild camp is not just about learning to act, said Trinko, who taught the camp in 2006. “It’s about learning to think creatively and hav- ing fun at the same time. It teaches campers self-confidence, strong communication skills, how to get along with peers, creativity and self-expression.” It also helps campers to improvise and to think quickly. In a camp like this, where children write and perform their own skits, there’s little creative downtime. Spider monkey Ian Walls, 9, of Milwaukee (with bananas) discovers his powers in front of two astonished animals: a macaw, played by Jaida Green (standing in background), 8, of Brookfield, and a jaguar, played by Tecun Anderson (kneeling), 9, of New Berlin. The skit “Super Animals and the Great Flood” told the story of seven animals finding their superpowers.

Children studied the program for a play they produced in the Zoological Society 2006 summer camp called Acting Wild. Their play was titled “A Poacher’s Story: A Savanna Adventure.” From left are Ruby Dietzel, 9, of Wauwatosa; ZSM publications intern Emilie Rusch; Kaitlyn Brayer, 8, of Brookfield; Kamrynn Lamontagne, 8, of Milwaukee; Allison Rowe, 8, of Mequon; and Kav Johnson, 8, of Shorewood.


Alive Winter 2007

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