The morning after fellow campers and I arrived at Camp Jabberwocky, we went with our fun-loving counselors to music class in the camp’s studio. We sang Rocket Man by Elton John. I must admit our singing was very rusty, but as the month progresses it will vastly improve.
Rocket Man will be one of the songs for this year’s play — Jabberwocky Presents The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — which will be written and directed by my counselor for the summer, Michael Leon.
Despite taking its name and narrative inspiration from the popular book and film, the story will be a Jabberwocky original. “The play’s metatheatrical structure will follow a contingent of campers and counselors looking for last-minute costumes on the day of the show,” Michael said. “But when they find a strange wardrobe in the back of the theatre, they find Winter Jabberwocky Wonderland on the other side. The Jabberwockians must find a way to save Winter Jabberwocky from the evil Ice Queen (aka Lady Gaga), and make it back in time for opening night!”
I suspect that if I want to continue to get up in the mornings, be fed, and have my usual wonderful time at Camp Jabberwocky, I should not reveal much else about the performance. But I can say that Michael will be encouraging campers and counselors for suggestions and to write the play.
It is a tradition here at Camp Jabberwocky, a sleep-over summer camp in Vineyard Haven for children and adults with disabilities, to have studio night every Saturday evening. Campers and counselors entertain each other and guests by performing short skits or musical numbers, which are often outrageous. As in past years, parts of skits such as funny lines and dances will be incorporated into the play.
It takes an entire camp session to brainstorm original ideas and write the play. All parts of the performance must be adapted so campers with physical and intellectual disabilities can participate fully. Because I have cerebral palsy and cannot walk or stand without assistance, I am often called upon to perform creative and wild floor dances. (It looks a bit like break dancing — the part where the dancer spins about on the floor.) Short speaking parts are written for campers with short attention spans and limited speaking abilities.
Arthur Bradford, codirector of Camp Jabberwocky, feels this year’s theme for the play is great. “Of course we like to take a lot of liberties with the plot,” Arthur said. “I’ve seen both campers and counselors take tremendous risks in the play. Campers who are usually too shy to even speak to a new acquaintance will get up and sing a song. Counselors who swear they can’t even muster the courage to sing in the shower get up and perform opera, badly, but with great humor. Together we push each other to lose our inhibitions.”
Codirector Jojo Romero agrees, applauding the sense of community and creativity the play fosters throughout camp. “It’s always inspiring to see the way everyone works together and takes pride in performing true Jabberwocky originals. The play is always one of the highlights of my year,” she said.
Sometimes Camp Jabberwocky can feel like boot camp several days before the play. Verses of songs and lines from scenes are drilled into our heads until they become second nature.
During this stressful time, tension sometimes erupts into anger (especially when the weather is beautiful and we feel we should be on the beach having fun and relaxing). To keep our sanity through the long hours of play rehearsals, we think about the excitement of performing on stage as well as giving thanks to our families and friends. Their dedicated support and generous donations make Camp Jabberwocky thrive.
Many, including myself, at Camp Jabberwocky agree with Arthur when he said: “I think the play helps show that people with disabilities can have a great sense of humor. I would hope people who see a Jabberwocky play lose any sense of pity toward people with disabilities. Perhaps they will even see them up there on stage and feel the exact opposite of pity: inspiration. Each year we get a few new counselor applications from young folks who say they saw the play and want to be a part of something like that.”
This year’s two performances are on July 15 and 16 at 7:30. Camp Jabberwocky is located in Vineyard Haven on 200 Greenwood avenue. Our mailing address for contributions is: Camp Jabberwocky, P.O. Box 1357, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.
Please look for our letter and donation envelope in the Tuesday Vineyard Gazette. Your generous donation to Camp Jabberwocky will be deeply appreciated.
Gazette contributor Paul Remy is a freelance writer who lives in Fall River.