(December 5, 2009 in Los Angeles, California) I’m gonna call a journalist’s audible here. Not that I take myself too seriously as a “journalist” (see the quotes?), but my job is to follow the story.
Last Saturday night, I attended a benefit concert. The benefit was for a thing I had no familiarity with, called Camp Bravo. The concert was billed as a night honoring Alan Menken. I’m geek enough, movie-obsessed enough, kid enough…whatever you want to say, that I knew that name and it got me jazzed. How jazzed? I had a shot at running into Britney Spears today. Not nearly as cool.
Alan Menken, for those with lives, is the composer of many a Disney tune and a musical or two, for good measure. We owe him for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and the like…which means even if you’ve got a life, he’s probably been a part of it. Menken, it turns out, wasn’t able to be there, but the show was still delightful where I might have been entitled to disappointment. A parade of entertainers (mostly Broadway vets, but names like Debbie Gibson and High School Musicals‘s Lucas Grabeel were in the mix) took to the stage and did a selection of Menken’s work up big. When I was about six, probably, I got to see Jodi Benson, the voice behind Ariel, sing at my local church. She opened it up to requests and I asked for “Under the Sea.” She told me that was Flounder. She was nice, but my six-year-old self was a little disappointed.
While I was once again denied “Under the Sea,” I was more than satisfied. These performers truly performed. The whole evening, I can only imagine, hearkened back to a day of stage, variety and vaudeville. There’s a reason for that…and here comes my audible.
See, this article was an option play. Do I cover the concert? Do I cover the benefited organization? Where’s the story? The story is in the San Bernardino National Forest, two hours outside of the hustle of LA. Up in the mountains is Camp Bravo. A safe place.
There are so many ways to be conscionable. There are hurting countries, communities, conditions. It is easy to overlook the arts. And even as I write about them, I wouldn’t necessarily throw my first nickles and dimes to their cause first. But when you see and hear the results of what the arts can do, even in an evening of music, it can change your tune.
In between songs, and sometimes before songs, the artists and alumni of Camp Bravo sang not just Menken but the camp’s praises. I was struck by one fellow who even came to tears in thanking the camp’s founders, Artur Cybulski and J. David Krassner. Another woman read the testimony of a mother who wrote the camp thanking them for bringing back her son’s happy demeanor and self-worth after a rough divorce.
They say, in Hollywood, you’ve got to start young. I had no idea how young. I shouldn’t have driven here six months ago, I should have driven out here right after I heard Jodi when I was six. These kids, sometimes reluctant at first as testimony said, get to go to a camp where they learn healthy, constructive, and empowering self-expression. I called Camp Bravo a safe place. When performers talk craft, they usually mention the importance of their environment — if they feel “safe” with a director. I’m not ready to go full-tilt artsy here, but I know schools, and cliques can sometimes be stifling places where, when you’re young, you can second-guess yourself. Camp Bravo sounds like a place to let it fly and learn from the trajectories it takes.
There are more than a handful of people out here who pour thousands and thousands and thousands into film school, almost purely as a networking opportunity too. Not only do these kids get a boost in self-confidence and a new avenue of expression, perhaps even a passion to pursue, they form friendships that years later, on a stage at an Alan Menken revue, they talk about working for executives, producing films, headlining in movies and Broadway.
Does anyone know any preschoolers I can give my card to? The point is it’s very easy, for talk of the arts or “craft,” to easily tip over into pretension. It’s easy to dismiss the arts as a cause. But to see parents choke up, proud of their kids and what that did for them, whether you call it simple imagination or craft, it doesn’t matter — it’s about that moment they’re on the stage and sure of themselves, when they surprise you and themselves. It reminds you expression is a natural, necessary thing.
Camp Bravo fosters that, far away from where show meets business in LA. You can learn a lot more about the whole thing at campbravo.org. Middle School and High School camps are currently offered, with different weeks highlighting different aspects from writing to performance, and registration is open now, as well as opportunities for donation.
I don’t always like talking about “the arts” this way (again with the quotation marks), and I didn’t think I’d like the night after no Menken, no “Under The Sea,” no “Be Our Guest” even, but I learned Camp Bravo can surprise you, and being their guest is a welcome thing indeed.