Chicago Children's Theatre hopes to resume in-person camps in August, but with precautions. Credit: Courtesy Chicago Children's Theatre

Summer performing arts camps and training programs usually provide a place for kids to be engaged in physical activity and collaborative play when school is out and the parents are at work. This year, though, things look different, and not just because COVID-19 means that most arts organizations are still keeping their educational activities at a distance. 

With the nationwide wave of protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, organizations that operate at the intersections of art and social justice while training the next generation of activists are even more vital. And even arts organizations that don’t specifically focus on social justice issues are still important in helping young people develop their creative and collaborative skills. This is just a partial guide to some arts organizations offering their version of summer camp this season.


According to About Face artistic director Megan Carney, “Our youth ensemble has been meeting every Saturday on Zoom and the workshop series culminates later this summer. These sessions have enabled youth from around the city to stay connected during a critical time, maintaining friendships, connecting with resources, and continuing with their theater training.” She also notes that the touring cast had created Power in Pride, which would have been a live touring piece heading into schools this spring, and decided to return to the studio to adapt excerpts for the digital realm. “We were about to release the online series for a broad audience when the news broke about the murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd. At that time we paused programs so we could support and participate in the protests in a variety of ways. When the time is right, we’ll be rolling out some beautiful new material from this cast of queer Black and POC artists through Power in Pride At Home,” says Carney.


The circus is back—live! Actors Gymnasium is resuming in-person summer camps and classes, in addition to the online training they have been offering since the COVID-19 shutdown. The three-session camp program begins July 6 and runs through August 14, and will be limited to groups of ten. Some of the other precautions include staggered lunchtimes, temperature checks, required masks, and as much activity planned for the outdoors as possible. Each two-week session is $800. The online version runs June 29-July 16 and focuses on skills such as juggling, flexibility, and theater games. The online camp fees are $250. Financial aid is available for both.


The Auditorium is continuing its Hearts to Art camp program for young people who have experienced the death of a parent. Director Sarah Illiatovich-Goldman and her staff have reconfigured the activities, which encompass dance, theater, music, and visual art, for online engagement with other campers and their families. There are two sessions: July 6-17 (session one, for campers ages 7-10) and July 20-31 (session two, for campers ages 11-14). Camp staff also will send out or deliver care packages containing activities such as coloring books or other crafts for campers to do at home. There is no cost for participants.


CCT offers virtual camps for ages 7 to 12, beginning June 22, that focus on the basics of acting, songwriting, singing, choreography, and collaborative storytelling, culminating in a final online performance for friends and family. There is also a virtual camp on acting for the camera. They run Monday through Friday, noon to 4 PM; $300 per week. There are also several “Play@Home” sessions that offer shorter time commitments on a pay-what-you-can basis. CCT hopes to resume in-person camps and classes in August.


Citadel offers “Virtual Playhouse” for kids in grades 2-5, focused on creating scenes through language and character development for $250; “Broadway Through the Ages” for grades 4-8, focused on learning dances from shows such as Hairspray and Chicago, $265; and “Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall,” grades 6-9, focused on retelling fairy tales, $265. The sessions run July 7-26, with performances scheduled on the last day.


The company will be releasing video archives of its recent online workshop series, “The Prodigy’s Workshop,” led by Luis Crespo and J. Nicole Brooks, which led youth on exercises in writing monologues, dialogue, and other work, some of it through a social justice lens.


Virtual summer camp at the improv games-based company consists of three weeks of sessions focusing on skills such as the building blocks of improv, building characters, and stand-up comedy techniques. Sessions run 9 AM-noon from July 20-August 7 and are broken into age-appropriate groups from age 8-18. Fees are $100 per session.


The company adapts its annual Youth Summer Dance Intensive (SDI) program for online training, July 6-17. In addition to training in dance techniques such as Horton, Graham, ballet, and contemporary, the curriculum also includes “The Continuum,” a series of “remote conversations on self-awareness and personal growth informed by each participant’s creativity and artistic process.” They also offer a virtual pre-professional advanced version of SDI July 20-31. Fees are $250 for both.


Filament’s virtual summer camp runs July 6-17, with morning sessions 9-10:30 AM for kids 5-8 ($155), and afternoon sessions 1-4 PM for ages 7-12 ($235). The emphasis is on theater games and storytelling, with prompts from the animal kingdom, mythology, and outer space. By the end of camp, kids will have created an original piece in collaboration with their peers.


Infinity offers in-person camps “adhering to CDC Safety Guidelines.” An in-person teen theater intensive, geared for ages 13-18, run July 11-August 1 and focuses on Shakespeare’s As You Like It. August 3-14, there is a “Best of Broadway” in-person, geared for ages 7-18. Infinity also offers private coaching in dance, voice, and theater. The camps are available at a pay-what-you-can rate.


Virtual camps at Lookingglass cover subjects such as storytelling, dance, puppetry, costumes, and adaptation. Sections are geared for students kindergarten to Grade 2; Grades 3-5; Grades 6-8; and Grades 9-12. Times and fees vary.


GreenMan offers online classes in storytelling
June 23-August 13, Mandala offers children 4-10 a passport to Indian classical arts, with sessions focused on southern India, northern India, and cross-continental India. The camp explores yoga, Carnatic and Hindustani music, Konnako. Bharatanatyam and Kathak dance styles, visual arts, and more.


Evanston-based Mudlark continues teaching online, with various sessions running July 6-August 14. Programming for younger kids (6-9) focuses on such topics as “Costumes and Characters” and exercises for building ensemble and creating original stories. The older kids (10-14) can build on those skills and also work on creating masks, fantasy makeup, physical comedy, and more.


Northwestern’s “cherubs” summer program through its National High School Institute won’t happen this year. But the Debate Institute has moved online, with four-week and seven-week sessions, each promising an 8:1 student-teacher ratio. There is also a playwriting intensive online seminar for high school students beginning on June 18 for $750. Financial aid is available. Bienen School of Music also offers an intensive vocal music seminar July 27-31 for high school and college students, as well as people returning to performance after a hiatus.


Following the success of its first online LARP for adults, VALHA11A, via its Moonrise Games division, Otherworld unveils digital LARPS for younger players. With a Wave of My Wand, an online wizarding-themed summer camp for ages 12-18, runs June 22-26, 1-3 PM. Star Guards: Defending the Galaxy, also for 12-18, runs June 29-July 3, 1-3 PM. For younger kids, ages 5-11, Otherworld has Story Adventures, a reading hour from 10-11 AM. The LARPs are $150, and the story hour is $20 per session.


Porchlight offers music theater summer camps, held in person as well as online. The in-person camps will practice a variety of precautions, including limited physical interaction, temperatures taken daily for instructors and students, and masks. The final performances will be virtual. All online classes will be conducted via Zoom. They are also partnering with Chicago Youth Centers on multiple programs including after school classes, Porchlight Friday Night mini concert series, and by offering free summer camps to all CYC Students.


The company’s “Take Flight” summer camps move online this year, with four different sessions running from June 29 to August 21, 10 AM-1:30 PM, for $325. The emphasis is on creating performances based on well-known stories, and classes are limited to 14 students per class.


The Second City has reopened its summer comedy camps in person, with programs geared for ages 7-11 and 12-18, focusing on the basics of improv, storytelling, and standup. There are also advanced camps that bring in training in clowning, long-form improv, and musical improv, as well as a film camp for ages 12-15 on “Making the Improvised Movie.” All in-person camps are limited to 10 participants, with temperature checks and masks required. Online camps also are available. Fees vary. For complete information, see


A project of Latinos Progresando, Teatro Americanoprovides youth with the skills, confidence and opportunity to write, produce and perform original plays based on their experience and the stories of their community.”

Teatro Americano will be going virtual this summer, with the program running July 6-August 13, Monday-Thursday 10 AM-2 PM. Their focus is on teaching youth about theater, storytelling, how to overcome shyness and gain confidence in public speaking and performance. Students will engage via live instruction paired with small groups and independent activities. In partnership with After School Matters, students will receive stipends for their participation and an electronic device (if needed).


Sponsored through City Lit Theater, the Viola Project has long been invested in helping girls and gender-nonconforming youth use the works of William Shakespeare to foster confidence as well as theatrical skills. This year’s lineup of summer camps goes online with four different sessions running from July 6-August 7, focusing on such themes as “Spirits, Sprites, and Sorcerers: The Tempest” for ages 8-12 (which ponders the limits of using magic curses to get what you want); “Courage and Valor” (ages 9-13), which examines the meaning of being heroic; “Shakespeare Remix’d” (ages 10-14), a musical theater approach to the Bard; and—just in time for the election season to really heat up—”Vaulting Ambition” (ages 12-16), a study of political intrigue. Camps run Monday-Friday, 9 AM-noon. Cost is $150, but financial aid is available.


The Australian children’s music group offers a free virtual summer camp in partnership with Rascal + Friends for 20-minute sessions July 14, 16, 21 and 23 from 11 AM-11:20 AM CDT. The sessions, geared for toddlers and their parents, focus on “arts, crafts, singing, dancing, and some special pirate-worthy prizes.” The sessions will be available live through both the Wiggles Facebook page and the Rascal + Friends Facebook page, and then left up on Facebook to access throughout the rest of the summer.  v