Summer vacation in Chicago means it’s time for camp! Emerald City Theatre continues their support of Chicago’s young artists through their summer theatre camp program, running now. I caught up with Education Coordinator Jessica Smoot and Summer Camp Coordinator Tyra Bullock to chat about their earliest theatre memories and why they love working with Chicago’s artsy kids.

BTD: Tell us about a memory you have of theater as a child. What or who got you into it?

Smoot: The first play I ever saw outside of school field trips was The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe at Dallas Children’s Theater. It was magical, and I remember how excited I was to get my program autographed by the actors. I still have it in a box somewhere!

Bullock: The first time I performed on stage was in 3rd grade to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” I was the new kid at school and had never performed in front of an audience. I thought dancing in the school talent show would be a great way to make friends. The music came on, I just did what felt good, and the audience went wild. I’d never felt energy like that before. I remember telling my mom, “I want to do this forever.”

BTD: What’s your favorite part of working with the kids through Emerald City?

Smoot: Kids are so honest. They haven’t learned how to filter their thoughts yet, and will say everything they think. Not only does it lead to some hilarious stories, but sometimes it allows you to have some wonderful teachable moments about the world and the variety of humans that we all share it with.

Bullock: I like seeing their faces when they feel they’ve done a good job. In those moments, it’s not about of affirmation from their teachers or anyone else in the room. It’s them establishing a quiet confidence. And I think it’s beautiful.

BTD: Besides camp counseling, what else do you do in the Chicago theater world?

Smoot: I’m a solo performer, director, writer, clown and producer. My biggest project currently is producing a late night circus variety show called AfterParty, which happens the third Saturday of every month at Theater Wit.

Bullock: Aside from being a camp counselor, I work as a year-round teaching artist. The great thing about teaching is that I get to help kids around the city translate their words and ideas onto the stage. Whether through exploring social issues or simply putting on a comedic one-act, it is a way of establishing a greater connection to their community. Meanwhile, I get to do the same with my own projects.

More information on Emerald City Theatre’s camps and classes can be found at