As summer camps return for a pandemic season, they face the same tension underlying schools’ decision on when and how to reopen: the demands of personal and public safety versus the costs of lost learning. That goes double for arts and sports camps, where group collaboration and consistent practice are key to the fun and the education.

“Artists and human beings in general are creative, adaptable creatures,” says Lynn Stalling, executive director of Atlanta Workshop Players, which hosts classes and summer camp in theater and filmmaking at Brandon Hall School in Sandy Springs.” When challenges are presented, people go into warp-speed to find new ways of meeting the needs of humanity.”

At last year’s COVID-era camp, AWP film students produced a 30-minute movie called “(DIS) CONNECTED” about the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Stalling says most of it was shot by students in their own homes with guidance via Zoom from “Emmy Award-winning directors from around the country.” Other footage was shot long-distance, including via drones. “A very new way of filming, indeed. This was a story that needed to be told, so we found a creative way to tell it in a very different world,” said Stalling.

A scene from the film “(DIS) CONNECTED,” created by students in last year’s Atlanta Workshop Players summer camp.

AWP is eagerly awaiting the post-pandemic theater world — “We are very ‘huggy’ people” says Stalling — but it’s also easing into live events. For the 2021 camp, AWP is returning to in-person programs with distancing, testing, mask-wearing and similar standard protocols. AWP has already staged live shows with performers who went mask-less after testing negative for COVID-19 immediately beforehand, Stalling said. In late spring, AWP aims to open performances to a “very limited, live, masked audience seated in ‘family pods,’” she said.

Joe Gransden, a well-known jazz band leader in metro Atlanta, canceled his four-year-old “Joe’s Jazz Camp” last year, which was set to host 100 students at a new location at Sandy Springs’ City Springs civic center. As of mid-February, he was unsure whether he would stage a 2021 edition for both financial and safety reasons. One factor on his mind is what the loss of opportunity could mean for budding musicians.

“It’s depressing in the fact that, for a guy my age, for that camp to disappear for a year or two years is not a big deal,” said the 50-year-old musician. “But for kids who have been there in the past, that’s the difference between high school and college.”

A scene from the 2019 edition of Joe’s Jazz Camp. (Special)

Charissa Gransden, who is married to Joe, is a band teacher and assistant director of fine arts at the Lovett School in Buckhead, which hosts its own array of camps. She says that, besides the usual slate of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention precautions, the band classes come with elaborate extra protocols. Brass players wear specialized masks with a slit just big enough for the mouthpiece, and their instruments may wear masks, too — a veil of fabric over the mouth of the trumpet, for example. Water keys, which allow the moisture from breath to be drained out of the instrument, are now emptied onto toilet-training pads made for puppies. 

But the biggest challenge may be the basic precautions that mean a band isn’t quite a band. “Normally, I would teach 50 kids at a time. Now I’m teaching eight or nine at a time,” said Charissa Gransden. Band students want to be in an ensemble, “So we are having to find different ways to keep the kids’ morale up,” she says.

Sports camps require plenty of precautions, too, but outdoor activities like tennis have a leg up, according to camp directors. Universal Tennis Academy and Agape Tennis Academy say they have been practicing the CDC precautions for all players at their metro Atlanta centers and will do the same for their summer campers this year.

Amy Pazahanick, founder and CEO of Agape, says that has allowed young tennis students to stay on top of their game. 

“Yes, our students are able to still consistently practice tennis and are still able to collaborate safely,” she said. “The big advantage of tennis is that it is outdoors. We have been very fortunate to have minimal cases of COVID — especially with the youth — at the tennis center.”

“As you can imagine, it has been an exhausting task” for everyone involved in the process of following the precautions, said Kathy Glanker, UTA’s summer camp coordinator. “During this time the need for some level of exercise still exists for most people and we believe that tennis is still a sport that can be enjoyed safely,” she said.


Atlanta Workshop Players

Joe’s Jazz Camp

Universal Tennis Academy

Agape Tennis Academy

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John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.