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School of Communication & the Arts inspires, trains young artists at summer camps

A group of students learn filmmaking during a Film Uncut session. (Photo by Ellie Richardson)

Liberty University’s School of Communication & the Arts has opened the theater curtains, set up the lights and cameras, and washed up the paintbrushes to share the school’s passion for the arts with students from the local area and beyond.

This summer marks the second year of Uncut Series camps, which give high school and middle school students the opportunity to engage in nine days of theatre, dance, film, or art under the guidance of Liberty faculty and students from the respective departments. Elementary age students can also participate in a weeklong theater day camp.

Theatre professor Chris Nelson, the summer arts programs coordinator, said the camps allow students to experience the campus community and learn about Liberty’s Christ-led approach to academics and the arts.

“From the beginning, the Uncut camps were designed to be a way for students from anywhere to get a feel of what it would be like to study an artistic discipline at Liberty University,” Nelson said. “They see that there’s an excellence to this place, and they see that not only are we looking to grow students spiritually, but we are also trying to grow them artistically and academically. To eat in the dining hall, sleep in the dorms, experience the recreational facilities, and (interact) with our Liberty students, it’s hard to quantify how impactful that can be for campers and their families.”

Close to 200 participated in the camps this year. The high school camps welcomed students from 17 states, one student from South America, and one from England.

A high school camper paints during Art Uncut. (Photo by Chase Gyles)

This year marked the first year for the art camp. Nelson said it’s been special to see the students explore studio art disciplines like painting and sculpting along with their technological experience to learn digital arts.

“A lot of kids nowadays have learned a lot on their own about technology and digital art, but they don’t have as much opportunity to practice something like sculpting or painting,” he said. “With our facilities, students, and staff, our Art Uncut camp is such a great chance for them to bring their imagination to life in a studio artform.”

Rising Liberty senior Jordan Prather and alumna Kelsey Dial (’22) attended a Liberty theatre camp while in high school, and now, having both studied in the Department of Theatre Arts, they are serving as counselors for this year’s aspiring onstage performers in the Theatre and Dance Uncut camps, respectively.

“When I was a camper, the counselors all had a wonderful attitude of being excited about not just having us perform well, but they also wanted to be good mentors to us and people who could teach us about the Lord through the craft of theatre,” Prather said. “As a kid, getting to learn that from someone who is just a little bit older than you is more impactful, and that’s what the camps have. Being able to help the campers learn these key parts of theatre and knowing that I had someone who did the same thing for me as a kid, it’s definitely a full-circle moment.”

Students learn steps with their partner in a rehearsal space during Dance Uncut. (Photo by Chase Gyles)

“The camps gave me a really great glimpse into the theatre department at Liberty in terms of what it was like to be a student here, and it was really cool to get to meet current students who were a product of the department,” Dial said. “I want to be part of showing people what Liberty is like, especially now that the dance camp has come about.”

This is the second year for the dance camp. Nelson said it provides another valuable opportunity for the theatre department to develop future Christian performers and potential Liberty students.

“With the Dance Uncut camp, we’re able to build off of what is already occurring in the (department), which is a growing desire to see a dance major be created,” Nelson added. “For us to be able to offer students from the local area and around the country the opportunity to experience dance at this camp, to teach them how to express themselves through dance while also viewing it as a form of worship, it is so special.”

On the final day of their camps, the campers have a chance to present what they’ve learned to family, friends, and the general public. Theatre and dance campers perform a cabaret in the Tower Theater and the art camp students host a gallery viewing. Film students premiere their short film in a nearby university-owned theater space.

Elementary school students perform “101 Dalmatians” at the end of Liberty’s theater day camp. (Photo by KJ Jugar)

Now in her second summer as a Dance Uncut counselor, Dial said she has enjoyed being a mentor to the younger students, especially when it comes to teaching them how Christians in theater should approach their work.

“The arts can be really competitive sometimes, and a lot of times if you don’t have a strong foundation of knowing who you are, you end up putting your self-worth in what you do and your own success,” Dial said. “At Liberty, we believe that our identity comes from Jesus and knowing Him, so we can support and be excited for others who do the same things as us. That’s something I feel very strongly about and something I want to instill into the hearts of young artists like the ones that come to the camp.”

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