For many, the words “summer camp” may evoke images of faraway woodsy retreats complete with cabins, sub-par food, and joyful singalongs.
With its two urban locations, the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit is turning that stereotype on its head — except for the singing part, which is a camp tradition they will firmly honor. The program is created to allow children from across metro Detroit to sing, dance, and act to their heart’s content. And, for the lucky kids who attend, they get to head home to sleep in the comfort of their own bed at the end of each day.
“There’s a common misconception that Mosaic only runs through the school year,” says the organization’s associate artistic director, DeLashea Strawder, the Mosaic alum who in September will become only the second artistic director in the world-acclaimed theater’s 27-year history. She will succeed founder Rick Sperling.
“We have programming year-round, even when we are not staging productions. As a creative youth development organization, we’re always working to offer young people things that could benefit them on stage and in life.”
That is the exact goal of the summer camps, which begin in July in the Eastern Market area and the Brightmoor neighborhood, the latter supported through a donation from the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation. Designed for children ages 7 to 11, each camp session is just one week — which is a change from previous years.
“Kids can do multiple camps in a row,” explains Sperling. “But the problem we were having with three-week camps was families were going out of town.” He says kids who could only commit to two-and-a-half weeks in the program couldn’t then be there for the show.
“So what we do now really is quite amazing. They come in on Monday, and on Friday they’re doing a show for their parents and friends. And they’re learning music and choreography and acting and getting cast, all in one week. We have found that’s really effective because it gives everybody more flexibility.”
This shift in how the program runs comes at a time of unprecedented change for Mosaic. Along with Strawder’s impending directorship, last May the organization hired Stefanie Worth, a veteran nonprofit professional, as its executive director. “I have a wonderfully lame duck position,” Sperling says with a laugh. “I am not a member of the leadership team. I don’t make any decisions. But I’m still writing a play we’re doing this year, and I’m directing our Motown show, which we’re bringing back after six years. So that will be my little piece.”
Sperling, whose title will change to founder and artistic director emeritus this fall, explains, “The dream was always that I would be succeeded by an alumnus, and Strawder is ready. I felt like her glass ceiling was me,” she says. “And I remembered something David DiChiera [the late founding general director of Michigan Opera Theatre] said to me years ago. He said his board had to come to the realization that you can’t replace a founder with one person. You have to have two people, because there’s just too much that’s unique to the founder you can’t find in somebody else.”
Change has also arrived in the form of an extraordinary, totally unexpected $1 million grant from Oak Park native and Broadway titan Jeffrey Seller, producer of such musical blockbusters as Hamilton, Rent, and this season’s The Cher Show. “It was a complete surprise,” Worth says of Seller’s gift. “The request came through our website on a Sunday.”
In a statement, Seller, who donated through his Seller-Lehrer Family Foundation, shares his reasoning for the gift. “I have admired Rick Sperling since the 1980s when he directed shows at Performance Network in Ann Arbor. He daily demonstrates that theater changes lives. His work with Mosaic has lifted and enriched the lives of thousands of young people, and we are honored to help support a strong future for this extraordinary institution.”
The grant, which will be distributed over five years, includes funds to establish an endowment that will support these summer camps. Combined with contributions from sources like the Jamie and Denise Jacob Family Foundation, camp scholarships are made available to practically any child in need.
The result of all this? More children will be able to have the life-changing experience that 11-year-old Madison Reeves, a Detroit native, has had. “Mosaic summer camp made me a better person, and a better singer,” says Reeves who started attending the camp at 7 years old. “It made a big impact on my life. It’s really fun to be able to perform, let your light shine, and just have a great time.”
For more information about Mosaic summer camps,
A Midsummer Day’s Youth Camp
These creative camp programs will feed any child’s love for art, music, and theater
Cranbrook Art Museum
The Bloomfield Hills institution’s Create Camps are for kids in kindergarten through ninth grade. Campers participate in hands-on activities in the Cranbrook Academy of Art studios and visit the museum weekly. cranbrook.edu
Michigan Opera Theatre
Children as young as 2 years old can practice various genres of dance, while those between 8 and 12 can learn all areas of theater production at the Michigan Opera Theatre’s day camp in Detroit. michiganopera.com
The Roeper School
Serving preschool through 11th-grade students, the Birmingham-based school’s Summer Stock Theatre camp is designed to help kids develop singing, dancing, and acting skills, which are showcased in a final performance. roeper.org
Ring of Steel
The Ann Arbor action theatre and stunt troupe offers a Summer Stunt Camp where children ages 8 to 18 are encourage to learn about swordplay, circus arts, special effects makeup, and much more. ringofsteel.org
Each day, students ranging from ages 12 to 18 will learn and perform a contemporary pop or rock song on guitar, bass, drums or vocals at the Detroit Institute of Music Education’s Summer Program. dime-detroit.com
— Ashley Winn