Tucked away in a handful of classrooms in Austin, TX, 20 girls between the ages of 14 and 18 spent the last two weeks of June at Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls Summer Camp, hosted by the eponymous online community helmed by none other than Leslie Knope’s alter ego.
Poehler and producer Meredith Walker founded the Smart Girls website a couple of years ago to give young women a positive environment online where they could celebrate, well, being smart. This summer, the site’s staff partnered with a nonprofit group called Creative Action to put together the most badass girls’ summer camp they could think of. Eschewing macramé and marshmallows in favor of social good, the camp put an announcement online and gathered together the first 20 girls who signed for two weeks of rabble-rousing.
Given a handful of social and environmental issues to choose from, the campers narrowed their fields of focus to two concepts: conscious connectivity and misogyny. Once they chose their activism topics, they were presented with an array of expressive options: theater, dance, graphic design, film, stop-motion animation, and improv. Then, they spent their days immersed in their creative disciplines. The end result: a rad final showcase for family and friends, which was later partially shared online for the world to see.
Presented in two parts, the showcase first focused on the theme “We Are All Affected,” the highlight of which was a stop-motion animated film produced by 10 of the campers. It explored the impact endangered species have on the lives of humans, from Austin’s own beloved Barton Springs salamander to the impact of the population decline of the honeybee on the global food supply. Heavy stuff for summer camp, sure. But, they managed to maintain their sense of humor, with a Winnie the Pooh shout-out and a salamander wearing sunglasses. Poetry readings about self-esteem and a theatrical dance expressing frustration with society's beauty standards rounded out the evening. And, a Q&A with the audience gave friends and family a chance to offer their own ideas about how they could personally get involved to tackle the problems presented.
During the second act, another 10 campers stepped forward and pitched their ideas for three new television series — one comedy, one drama, and one reality show — with strong female protagonists. The theme? “Create The She That You Want To See.” But, this wasn’t just any old project — they’d been guided by Smart Girls cofounder Meredith Walker, who knows a thing or two about making television. Walker’s credits include work as a talent executive at Saturday Night Live and a producer at Nick News with Linda Ellerbee. Lately, for the benefit of Smart Girls’ followers, she’s been hosting Google hangouts with the likes of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey executive producer Ann Druyan and health-food wunderkind Haile Thomas, brainstorming ways for girls and women of all ages to, you know, run shit.
“I want this kind of experience to be available for us at every stage of life,” she told me after the showcase. “That’s why we’re putting the camp online.”
And, so they did, and it’s not just for kids anymore.
Smart Girls marketing director Ashley Kuske says plans are under way to expand the IRL camp to more cities in the future. The goal, she says, is to inspire campers to change the world by being themselves. In the meantime, the rest of us kids (at heart) can download a camp kit and make a dent of our own.
Dive — virtually, at least — into Smart Girls Summer Camp here.