Hey Kids, Let’s Put on a Show!
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When Una McDaid and her sisters came to the US from Ireland, they were shocked that children didn’t seem to know how to sing and dance. “When we would ask about it they would say, ‘Oh, I used to,’” says Una. “We looked at each other. This is what we grew up with.”
So, nine years ago, they founded Act One, a three-week summer performing camp where kids can learn to sing, dance, and perform on stage in a friendly environment. No pressure. No hassle. Like Planet Fitness, a no-judgment zone.
“We start the first week with workshops to help them learn to come out of themselves,” says Una’s sister and Act One co-founder, Fionnuala Porter McBrearty. “We match up the younger children with the older ones who are their ‘buddies.’ And by the third week, everybody wants to do a solo!”
This is no “America’s Got Talent.” The point is not to find the most talented kid in the tri-state area, but to help children build confidence in themselves. “All of the kids are stars of the show,” says Fionnuala. “Some kids already sing and dance well because they’ve taken lessons. But every child gets a chance to shine.”
“For some kids, just the act of walking on stage is a win,” adds Una.
That was clear last Friday night, when the Act One troupe performed songs, dances, and funny skits for a sell-out crowd of parents, grandparents and siblings at the Ardmore United Methodist Church, where camp is held and Una McDaid teaches preschool. (Proceeds from ticket sales are given to various charities, including “Cradle to Crayons,” a local nonprofit that gives school supplies to needy children.)
One of the tiniest little girls, her short hair in heat-induced ringlets, barely made it through her first song, her hands in her mouth and eyes wide and glinting with terror. But she sat out the rest of the show on her mother’s lap until the finale, when her friends encouraged her to come back on stage with them. You could watch her stage fright evaporating as she joined them in song and threw in some comic and unscripted floor wiggling.
“Our first goal is always to have fun,” says Una. “But we know that these kids will go through so many things in life, tests that will crush their confidence. We want to help them build up some confidence. We always tell them, ‘Your parents will be so proud.’ They know their parents will be in the audience. Though they don’t always think that everybody’s else’s mom and dad is going to be there too, so we do have some meltdowns,” she laughs.
“We don’t want to put the children out of their comfort zone,” says Fionnuala, “but we do have a rule at camp: “You can’t say ‘I can’t.’ You have say, “I’m going to try.’”
You can see how much they all tried—and succeeded—in our photo essays.