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The Front Lines: On Directing

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Some iD historians may remember that my relationship with the company started as a fairly over-confident director at iD Vassar (the best iD camp ever). I was experienced in traditional camp, although at the time, my trials had been limited to day camp pursuits. Vassar was a different animal altogether – an overnight camp, a small detail that I should have paid more attention to during my preparation.

I came from a world where I controlled my non-camp time. The hours between the end of the day and the next morning were reserved for planning with my leagues of minions and, frankly, relaxing. This was time that I could use to daydream about the days to come and make camp the best experience ever.

An overnight camp doesn’t afford such luxuries. Those daring few that choose this profession, learn quickly that pre-camp planning is essential and the naïve idea that “I’ll start that program (or whatever) after a week or two once we’ve settled in” doesn’t happen. When an overnight camp starts, everyone is strapped into a rollercoaster that doesn’t stop until the season is over. Those evening relaxation sessions that I was accustomed to, that allowed me to plan and create awesome ideas, are moved to… hm… 10pm? Later? And then what? After a couple of nights going from 7am to midnight every day, no amount of coffee can compensate for the exhaustion.

I was lucky, though, because I had Jamie, my Assistant Director extraordinaire, that not only trusted my wacky pursuits, but also somehow didn’t sleep. At all. I’m not kidding. I remember pleading with her to go to bed, only to be met with a complete set of completely finished camper packets the next day. And she was training for a marathon by running every morning. I think she’s a robot.

Amazingly (to me anyway) those years are far behind me. Every time it gets warm, I can only think about how amazing it would be to direct again… and then I turn over in bed and realize that even with a teething infant, I get much more sleep.

I wanted to find out a current directors feel about directing in 2012 – to see if my experience was similar. I asked around the Forum and got a couple of responses from some awesome leaders in the iD world. This is the first week of camp for only a few locations, so everyone is busy doing the preparation that I would be doing (of course) if I was in their shoes!

SClausen (total apologies, I only have access to the Forum names!) is the director of Villanova – a huge overnight iD camp in Pennsylvania. Her experience is very similar to my own.

“As a director, you have to be prepared for anything. From parents calling your cell phone really early in the morning on the way to camp (a great way to quickly learn how to be pleasant pre-coffee), to dealing with unexpected changes on campus (construction or big events that limit parking for Family Showcase), directing definitely keeps you on your toes!”

The “pleasant” comment is hilarious and I can absolutely relate. Directors are, by character, very amiable people that can get along with anybody. Unfortunately, after a night of getting woken up every half hour by a camper whose braces are bothering his cheeks, sharing a warm smile at 6am is a difficult feat – especially if the first taste of coffee is all the way across campus.

“This is my 5th summer directing with iD and one of things that I’ve learned is imperative to get the job done is to make sure to be organized! There are a lot of paperwork items that need to be taken care of on a daily and weekly basis, and if you don’t stay on top of it, you can quickly become overwhelmed.”

Wow. I couldn’t say it better myself. And if you happen to be a scatterbrain like myself that focuses on the production more than the details, be sure you have a Jamie that will make sure you don’t lose your marbles!

“One of the best things about the job, especially being at the same location for multiple seasons, is getting to know the families and campers that come back to iD each summer. As the director, I get to not only know the campers, but also get to know the families since I’m running check-in and check-out each day. A highlight of the summer for sure is catching up with our returning families.”

I had campers that stayed all summer long, which definitely gave me an opportunity to establish a great rapport. Every now and then since directing, I’ve encountered old campers that remember me, mostly positively. They universally mention my passion for camp songs!

“I also make sure to take time each week to recognize the staff–either through coffee runs or our “staffle” at the end of the week. The instructors work incredibly hard and I want to make sure that they know that I appreciate them.”

I miss my staff all the time. They were hilarious and a great group of people. And there was that awesome AD… what was her name again?

“…make sure you are taking time off! It’s so important! Finally, invest in a travel coffee mug. It (at least for me) will become a close friend during the summer. At least when it is full of coffee.”

Yup. Cherish those moments that you can gather your thoughts… and drink a lot of coffee!

MKing, aka Nick Fury, from Colorado State University wrote me a great statement about being a director.

“What it means to be a Director for one of the most prestigious camps in the country comes down to a few statements for me.”

“I feel I am not working at this camp but merely looking for ways to help push my staff, my campers and myself closer to my own creative genuineness. I am the tool that helps prop/push the creative ladder against the next amazing idea so that the next Mark Zuckerberg can help change the world. I am the companion that brings a multitude of different kids together, that begin as quiet introverts and then they transform 5 days later into with a LOUD extroverted voice that shouts, ‘I HAVE FOUND MY PEOPLE!’ (true story). I am not working but am merely a piece of flint starting something that will change their world (and mine) and to help make sense of the way they are wired uniquely.”

My people – I talk about this all the time when pitching iD. One of the greatest aspects I have observed at every iD Tech Camp is that there are so many campers that come from a world, both socially and academically, that they are in the minority. They enjoy certain games, programs, hobbies, animation, and subjects – everything that escapes popular attention. Being at iD is being home with your people.

“I love directing because I get to see all these different pieces first hand as they all come together in a beautiful symphony of e-brilliance!”

Sounds good to me!