It’s amazing how easily certain things can regress us back to childhood. Getting on a bright yellow school bus is one of them. I was never sent to sleep-away camp as a child; arts and crafts camp was more my style. But Camp Schecky made up for that childhood experience I never knew I missed. Camp Schecky, “a play on a bus,” simulates a bus ride to summer camp. The bus is driven through the streets of Toronto by a bus driver who has probably had worse; this is a site-specific play that lives on its setting, which is a great deal of the fun. On the way to summer fun, you learn the secrets of the camp, find out about the relationships between the counsellors (and their secrets), sing camp songs, and get busted for various camp infractions. It’s extremely interactive. This is a show that’s made better if you go with a buddy; luckily, there was another lone camper on the bus who I made “BFFs” with, but getting on the bus alone does make you feel as nervous as walking into that new school. However, the counsellors are there to make everyone feel at home (if a little embarrassed).
There’s Duckie, camp second-in-command (Nicki Gallo, whose brainchild this insanity is), and shy, rules-oriented Scooter, the longest-serving employee and equipment manager (Steve Boleantu). Troy Blundell plays head of sports, and Allison Brennan head of all things nature. All actors radiate energy, likability, and presence, like the cool but strangely peppy older kids who seem to exist to become counsellors. They’re all “types” – the hippie chick, the nerd, the meathead, the sweetheart- but this isn’t a situation or play that calls for nuance or a complicated story.
The appeal of being on the bus is like sharing a little secret. It’s very entertaining to occasionally look outside at the amused or confused reactions of passerby, especially when the bus is boarded or exited. The new camp director, Lance, boards the bus partway through the tour, and this is where all the conflict begins; at first he seems like the perfect replacement boss, even with his popped collar, sweater tied around his neck and new, Gilbert-and-Sullivan flavoured camp song (okay, so I would have gone to G&S camp in a heartbeat), but soon his true colours are exposed and he is set to ruin everyone’s good time-for good. He’s basically the personification of all of the other counsellors’ bad attributes with none of the good qualities, a warning and lesson to them all.
The issue with Lance is that he becomes an absolutely cartoonish bad guy; I’m surprised he didn’t have some sort of mustache to twirl. He’s also self-contradictory in his villainy; his new camp motto is “safety first: victory second,” but he refuses to treat allergies and is turning the camp into three teams that must try to beat each other at everything, because anything less than victory is unacceptable. I’d like for him to have more of a sense of vision to his evil, rather than just anything awful at once. What is nice is that the “good guys” do have strong flaws, which initially makes Lance appear to make a few good rule changes, like coming out against theft. But, again, while it would be nice to have seen a more multidimensional portrait of Lance, rather than his fake charm immediately turning into “trying to have affairs with campers’ mothers,” this is a show that doesn’t need nuance when you’re sitting in a school bus seat. This play essentially turns us into children (preteens) again, and so we want to react like preteens, with an easy, black and white worldview, cheering our heroes and booing the villain like the audience of a melodrama. This is satisfying in itself.
A strong theme in the show is camp’s transformative properties: the chance to reinvent yourself and learn new things. By the end of our bus ride to Camp Schecky, all of the counsellors have learned a few new things about themselves, like who to trust, who they really are or might become, and how to overcome their issues to band together for success. By the end, we’ve had an awesome, largely analysis-free time, which is what summer camp is all about. And we also, apparently, can’t get the Camp Schecky theme song out of our heads, for days. No, really. I could sing every word for you right now.