The True Impact of Camp
Eric Winick, Chief Marketing Officer, JCC Manhattan
Between 1973 and 1982, I attended a series of JCC Day Camps in Marblehead and Middleton, Massachusetts. Some of the most memorable moments of my young life were spent at the JCC’s Kindercamp, Camp Simchah, and Camp of the Arts.
Being a picky eater who lived in fear of being forced to eat food I didn’t like, overnight camp was not an option; and so I hopped a yellow school bus and traveled 40 minutes to Simchah, a woodsy paradise located on several scenic acres featuring two shelters, a multi-purpose paved court, large open field, a Z-shaped swimming pool, cinder-block changing rooms, and, this being New England, tennis courts.
Though we began each day around the Israeli flag chanting Hatikvah, and our bunks were named for kibbutzim (I started in Bar’am and ended in Yagur), I couldn’t care less about the Israel aspect. When given the option of participating in Israeli dance or auditioning for that summer’s musical, a truncated version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, I opted for the latter, despite having little to no onstage experience. Perhaps because I could carry a tune, I was cast as the Captain, a lead role.
Some of us can trace our lifelong passions back to Point Zero, AKA The Moment When It All Started. For me, that was the first public performance of Pinafore. Stepping onstage, I experienced the esprit-de-corps that’s a natural extension of a cast banding together to put on a show, as well as the appreciation of my fellow campers. The next summer, I auditioned for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and was cast as Linus.
In the summer of 1981, I was among the first campers at the JCC’s newly formed Camp of the Arts, which operated out of a barn off the main road to Simchah. We put on The Wizard of Oz in our first year, and in the second, the obscure Jones & Schmidt musical Celebration. A couple years later, I earned my first lead role in high school, the first of many I would play there and in college. At Middlebury, I discovered directing and playwriting. I remained active in the real world, acting and directing professionally in DC and New York City. In 2005, I was accepted to the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut. Throughout it all, I supported myself with jobs in the “business,” from box office treasurer at DC’s Arena Stage to Director of Marketing at Playwrights Horizons in New York, a position I held for almost fifteen years.
Camp will always be a part of me, just as theater will always be a part of me, and even though I no longer fancy myself an artist, I still consider myself a storyteller, and look forward to helping the JCC tell its own stories, which are plentiful. Needless to say, I’ll always be indebted to Ms. Diane Naplan, the director of HMS Pinafore, who one day in July 1979 offered me the chance of a lifetime. She, and the JCC camp I called home that summer, set me on the path I’ve traveled to this day.