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Real Camp Stories, Part 1: Just Beyond the Campfire

By Rachel Austin, a cast member of the new improvised summer camp show Camp Madeupponaspotta (opens this Saturday at 6pm).

The smoke burned my eyes, causing tears to trickle down my sunburned cheeks. The butterflies in my stomach threatened to burst through my mouth but likely appearing as the s ’mores and hot dog I had gobbled down earlier. Huddled with the other eleven-year-olds, I shifted foot to foot anxiously waiting for my initiation at Prude Ranch. Prude Ranch, a camp on a historic, working ranch in the Ft. Davis Mountains, divided new campers into two tribes – the Comanche Triangle Bars and the Apache Three Bars – to compete in games and competitions throughout the duration of camp. At the end of the camp session, a tribe was crowned the champion and could brag for a whole year until the next summer when the other tribe would have the chance to reclaim the title.

The initiation ceremony was top secret among campers, but all of us newbies were desperate to know something, to prepare us for the trial that awaited.

I stood next to a girl with blond pigtails, clearly more nervous than me. She stared grimly ahead as we waited to be called to the edge of the firelight. One of the counselors would take us into the darkness and conduct the initiation ceremony, and then bring us back to the fire to proclaim which tribe had claimed us. Without dropping her gaze she whispered, “I heard we are getting branded – that is why they had us wear jeans.” The bottom of my stomach dropped out. Branded? Like cattle?

“I stuffed a folded up pillowcase in my back pocket to lessen the burn.”  She rubbed her hand across her back pockets, confident her pillowcase strategy would help some with the pain.

My fear tripled – I didn’t have anything in my back pocket except for some insubstantial lent that would do little to protect me from the burn of iron.

“Rachel Posey, step forth and know your fate!” called a baritone voice from the darkness, and a counselor, nicknamed Hot Dog, stepped forward wearing a Native American headdress and white paint smeared across his cheeks. I was too young, too scared and too focused on the impending branding iron to note how ridiculous and politically incorrect the whole ceremony was and didn’t notice that the terrifying warrior in front of me was barely older than sixteen with acne across his chin.  I stepped forward and let Hot Dog lead me outside the light of the fire.

Walking several yards from the campfire, we stepped into the shadow of a large tree where several counselors knelt with what looked like a branding iron. I was certain that everyone could hear my heart pounding.

Hot Dog leaned down to look me in the eye, he had pulled a flashlight from somewhere and lit his face from beneath, casting strange shadows on his typically pleasant face. “Are you ready to know your tribe?” (Click below to read more)

Camp Madeupponspotta runs every Saturday in April at 6pm. Get tickets here.

I nodded with a pained look, and Hot Dog’s face softened. “Rachel, are you scared?”

I nodded again.

He let a little chuckle and put his arm around me. I was enveloped with the smell of sour sweat, wood smoke and Old Spice.

“You have nothing to worry about. This is just part of the fun.”

He pointed his flashlight at the counselors wielding the branding iron, and I realized that the iron wasn’t hot but instead covered with paint.

“We’re going to brand you with your tribe but it won’t hurt.”

So relieved I almost lost my footing, I stepped forward not sure what was expected of me. And Hot Dog again chuckled and grabbed me by my shoulders, turning me around so my back was facing the kneeling counselors. I felt a pressure on my back left jean pocket, and I turned back to see a brilliant white triangle stamped on my backside.

Hot Dog let go of my shoulders, smiling. “Congrats and welcome to Comanche Triangle Bar – your family for the rest of summer.”

I returned to the fire, making sure my backside faced the darkness so I wouldn’t give away the secret to the awaiting initiates. I gave a thumbs up to the blonde girl with a pillowcase in her pocket, and her grim expression softened into a tiny smile. I had survived so she would too.

Growing up, camp was always an escape for me. In a small town everyone knows you and who your parents are. If you wet your pants in kindergarten, you’re the kid who wet his pants when you graduate. Small towns offer a certain amount of security but I always felt a little stifled.

When I went to camp, I could be anyone I wanted. At camp, I had nothing holding me back – no preconceived ideas of who I was or the need to question why we did something. It was all sacred and ridiculously fun.

Camp and improv have that in common for me. Both terrified me initially. Both have a group of passionate people involved. And to me, both are sacred and ridiculously fun.

Camp Madeuponthespotta combines my two favorite things, exploring any kind of camp story: from the kid who is afraid to swim to the camp director who doesn’t want to grow up to the kid who just wants to be themselves and escape their hometown. S ’mores. Campfires. Sunscreen. Stolen kisses. Sing-alongs. Sunburns. Secret pacts. That is what you’ll experience at this show.

So join me, your ole Comanche Triangle Bar pal, in a story that’ll make you long for summer. I promise, if we lead you away from the campfire, it won’t hurt and is all part of the fun.

2 Responses to “Real Camp Stories, Part 1: Just Beyond the Campfire”

  1. Dave says:

    Rockin story Rachel. I do wanna hear about the camp where they DO brand the kids. It’s gotta be out there.

  2. POSDVM says:

    Loved the story and gave me great insight to the wonderful Rachel “Willow” Austin.

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