Once upon a time (May 30th-June 4th, to be specific) in a land far far atop a mountain two hours outside of sunny Los Angeles, approximately 300 queer humans — 250 campers and 50+ staff and talent — gathered for four days and four nights of revelry, intellectual stimulation, dance parties and deep sea bonding. They called it A-Camp 6.0, and it was beautiful! This is the second of four fantastic recaps which serve to ease our collective separation anxiety, give you a behind-the-scenes look at how your A-Camp soysage is made, enable us to wax nostalgic over times gone by and provide prospective campers with a brilliant glimpse into the A-Camp Experience from the Staff Side Of Things. (If you wanna know how it feels to be a camper, you’ll have to come to camp!)
A-Camp was the genesis of an idea Riese had at 3AM in July 2010: the concept was to take the spirit of the website into three glorious dimensions by renting a summer camp in the off-season and jam-packing a long weekend with panels, workshops, discussions, crafts, sports, entertainment, parties and so much more! We gave the idea a spin with an abbreviated, smaller edition of A-Camp in April 2012, followed by full-size full-length camps in September 2012, May 2013, October 2013, May 2014 and May 2015.
This camp was our best camp yet. Seriously, we were very on top of our game. This required raising prices, but we think the extra expense was well worth it — I mean, we had a bouncy castle! We had an all-star cast of special talent: actress and DIY Queen Jasika Nicole, Everyone is Gay super-idols Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid, musicians Julia Nunes, Jenny Owen Youngs and Mal Bum and comedians Brittani Nichols, Deanne Smith and Elicia Sanchez. Plus, Orange is the New Black’s Lauren Morelli showed up for an hilarious afternoon Q&A, Kimber Hall improvisationally enterained us with Brittani and former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent sang from her soul. A DELIGHTFUL TIME WAS HAD BY ALL.
A-Camp 6.0, Two: May 31st, 2015
Block A: Finger Knittin’ Good (Jasika Nicole) // Writer Writer Pants on Fire (Ali & Hansen) // Bisexual Mountaintop Summit and Feelings Atrium (Rachel, Cecelia, Stef, Elicia, KaeLyn & Liz Castle) // Introvert Meetup (Heather & Whitney) // We’ve Got Your Back: Acts of Community Care (Gabby, Laura, Alex & Mary) // Music Hike (Jenny Owen-Youngs & Mal Blum)
Block B: Say It With Your Chest: Movement Workshop (Brittani Nichols) // Macrame Plant Hangers (Cee & Laneia) // Pool Games (Robin, Mary & Cleo) // Write Your Face Off #1 (Rachel & Heather) // Queer Herstory Trivia (Carmen, Maddie, Carolyn W & Kaelyn) // Intro to Everyone is Gay (Kristin Russo & Dannielle Owens-Reid)
Dannielle Owens-Reid, The Talent: I woke up hella early and sat on a log journaling for the first time in months. Which is ridiculous, but I guess you kind of forget to journal when you’re super happy? IDK. IT was peaceful as fuck and I want to go back to that morning every single day.
Djuan Trent, Contributor & Beehive Counselor: After helping Megan set up some things, I went and found a tree stump to sit on and I did some meditating. It was nice. The air on the mountain was crisp and the sun was so warm on my skin.
Laura Wooley, Former Associate Editor & Sea Otters Counselor: It is my personal belief that swings are one of the finer things in life. The only thing better than swinging is swinging at 7,000 ft above sea level among 300 gorgeous queers.
Lizz Rubin, Former Style Editor & Witchblades Counselor: Jasika taught me and my adorable girlfriend Chrissie how to finger knit in Finger Knittin’ Good and I made this incredible scarf! Guys I made this scarf with my freaking hands! My hands I tell you!
Liz Castle, Tower of Terror Counselor: UGH IM SO SAD I MISSED FINGER KNITTING WITH JASIKA!!! I feel like I got to enjoy plenty of finger knitting jokes later which was good too, but I still want to steal her away and have her teach me her incredible crafty ways!
Kristin Russo, The Talent: OMG WE MET JASIKA AND CLAIRE TODAY! *heart eyes emoji*
Maddie Taterka, Staff Writer and Firebirds Counselor: Y’all BROUGHT IT for Queer Herstory Trivia. You also were very patient which was nice of you.
KaeLyn Rich, Staff Writer and Shark Week Counselor: I wrote such long and ridiculous questions. But don’t you know so many new facts now about Angela Davis and ACT UP? Don’t you?! I had so much fun and Maddie looked so adorable in her rainbow cape.
Maddie: If anyone wants to know even more about Angela Davis, you can read Carmen’s Idol Worship about her.
Riese Bernard, CEO/Editor-in-Chief and Runaways Counselor: Red Team CRUSHED IT at Queer History Trivia. We were off to a great start in the Rainbow Wars.
Cee Webster, Tech Editor & Fried Green Tomatoes Counselor: The macrame plant hangers workshop went really well! Everyone finished their plant hangers and dip dyed them and hung them in the tree outside, as you do. I’m excited folks can now hang their house plants free from their cat’s teeth.
Lizz: After I made a scarf with my hands I made a macrame plant holder. It was super fun to make but Chrissie kept saying I would never use it for a plant. She actually turned out to be right: I’m using it for stuffed animals.
Stef Schwartz, Music Editor & Campires Counselor: I brought hummus! I brought snacks to The Bisexual Mountaintop Summit & Hummus Appreciation Society and nobody else did. For a while I stood next to my sad little tub of hummus and told bisexuals that they could have some if they wanted, but I guess it’s really hard for bisexuals to commit to a decision so very few of them chose to indulge.
Cecelia White, Intern and Witchblades Counselor: I enjoyed some of Stef’s generous hummus faire, because I appreciated its role as the only dip present. There was no time to even think about dips, really, because the discussion was so enriching!
Elicia Sanchez, Comedian and Ghost Power Counselor: Attending and co-leading the Bisexual Meetup was a really great experience for me. I never realized how many campers identified as bixexual and seeing that helped to make me feel much more like I belonged.
Kai Keller, Calendar Girl and The Beach Counselor: It might have given me the most feelings I’ve had at camp ever. The discussion circle I was in was open and fluid and had me confronting all sorts of internalized backwards bullshit I’d been holding onto for a long time.
Rachel Kincaid, Managing Editor and Ghost Power Counselor: We try to do the bisexual discussion group differently each year, and while there’s always room for improvement, I was really happy with how things went! We wrote discussion questions on the wall, gave people time to write thoughts or responses below, and then broke into groups to discuss. We probably could have gone on talking for much longer than the time we had — for days! — but it was cool to be able to dig into some more specific and complicated stuff, whereas in past years I’ve felt like we only had time to discuss some very broad strokes of our shared experiences.
Elicia: Every year I have moments at camp where I find out something I thought I worried or suffered through on my own is actually a commonly shared experience. This was one of those moments, learning that other campers struggled with invisibility or feeling alienated by our respective queer communities at times.
Kai: I sat quietly for a while and just listened and felt surrounded by such brave, smart souls. Then I said words that were scary for me to say and was verbally and physically hugged, loved on.
Stef: I sat down with a brilliant group of campers and we talked about how we self-identify, and whether it’s important to label ourselves “bisexual” or with any terms at all. I’m constantly inspired by just how fucking intelligent and insightful our campers are. I could have stayed there all day.
Cecelia: We doodled our bisexual dreams and discontents on a big white piece of poster board, and I gained so much just reading everyone’s thoughts. I also learned the importance of building strong bisexual communities wherever I go, which has been a really important personal goal to carry with me from the mountain.
Emily Gigler, A-Camp Dancing Queen: A-Camp 6.0’s bisexual gathering was my favorite one so far; so many queers all hanging out in such a chill setting made for some very real, poignant, and hilarious conversations. I felt relaxed and at ease and safe and seen and it was wonderful.
Cecelia: I realized in that exact moment surrounded by so many (so many!) beautiful bisexuals that I had never really expressed my complicated feelings about my own bisexuality and I do in fact feel essentialized, thank you.
Kai: Someone mentioned how diverse in presentation we all were, and it was so true! Bisexuality and queerness come in so many forms, and duh I know this, but to see so many of those gorgeous people sitting in a circle in front of me.
KaeLyn: It was amazing to see a packed room of bi/pan/omni/queer folks.
Elicia: We also talked about hummus for a bit which became important because I learned about specific flavors of hummus I didn’t realize existed before, the titles of which I can no longer remember which is unfortunate and probably the lost key to my current daily survival.
KaeLyn: We solved all the problems and now no one will ever be gender essentialist or biphobic again. Hooray! We did it! Seriously, though, we are really the quiet majority, statistically and realistically. It was beautiful to talk with ya’ll about our experiences and to pool our strength.
Sarah Hansen, Former DIY Editor and Fun Home Counselor: Writer Writer Pants on Fire was a huge success, mainly due to everyone’s horrified faces when we told them to pass their journals to the person next to them. But everyone rolled with it and some incredible stuff came out of it. Gavin ate a ton of disgusting Bertie Bott’s Beans and another camper’s work made me tear up a little as they read it aloud. At camp, I’m just totally amazed by everyone’s talent all the time.
Ali Osworth, Tech Editor and Star Runners Counselor: The Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans exercise — it def yielded really strong work. To anyone who ate the rotten egg flavor, just know that once my school had me do a shot of MSG and write about it. They did not tell me that it was MSG before I swallowed it.
Laura Wooley, Former Associate Editor and Sea Otters Counselor: The Community Care Workshop was such a good way for me to officially start camp.
Gabby Rivera, QPOC Speakeasy Founder and Beyhive Counselor: It meant so much to me. Acts of care got me through a very difficult year and I wanted to share them with everyone on the Mountain.
Laura W: As much as I love it, I sometimes feel isolated up there, so it was really nice for me to start with something about radical love.
Gabby: Laura and I put a lot of work into developing the workshop and putting together the ‘zine. Mary and Alex were the most supportive and thoughtful co-facilitators.
Djuan Trent: I didn’t have anything to do on this morning, so I just kind of wandered around and watched other people do things. Gabby’s workshop seemed to be a hit and when she was explaining it to me the night before it seemed like something I could totally relate to, so I went.
Laura W: I felt like we all got off on our very best foot: Gabby made people feel welcome, I helped people make something, campers talked about the hard parts of community care, and Mary and Alex helped us think about how we can use play to deal with rough times.
Gabby: All of you in the workshop were the best! You were all game to make lavender salve and to give each other platonic hand massages. You shared best practices on how to engage in deeper levels of community care. Aida from the Beehive hooked us up with “5 ways we learn” and touch was one of them! Gloria asked us how we can think beyond just ourselves and give love when our friend communities are fractured.
Laura W: Gloria really brought it to another level.
Gabby: Gilles told us about how they dress up their cat in costumes and make music videos to de-stress. Like we all laughed and shared and engaged with each other. It was such a good way to kick off camp.
Alex Vega, Design Director: It ended with everyone making new friends by giving each other hand massages with the lavender salve they had made during our open discussion about how to take care of ourselves and each other. Like. I can’t even. So beautiful.
Trent: It’s important that we care for ourselves and it is also important that we care for each other. I hope people were really able to take away from it!
Rachel: During Block A was the first-ever meeting of my writing workshop — I had asked to try something new, which was having a recurring workshop on multiple days of camp so there was time to try different things and build on previous exercises, and was REALLY nervous about how the first day would go. Most of my teaching experience is with bored undergraduates who don’t want to be in class, and so it was hard for me to believe that people would actually choose to spend time on it, for multiple days no less. But people did! We introduced ourselves, did some small exercises, and Heather Hogan guest starred to run an exercise where people experimented with different writing voices and audiences.
Kristin Russo: Before our Intro to Everyone is Gay, Dannielle and I took a walk in the woods to prepare for some of the upcoming workshops. Before camp we’d been untangling a lot of future plans for Everyone Is Gay and it was really hard for us to connect without the stress wrapping us up. That walk in the woods was really special and made me feel re-connected to my business-wife in a much needed way. Then it was time. AHHHHH! Our very first activity!
Carly Usdin, Special Programming Director: I hung out and ran slides for Kristin & Dannielle and it was really fantastic. I knew who they were and what they did before camp, but I hadn’t really had a chance to get to know them as yet.
Dannielle Owens-Reid: Our intro was super fun. We hadn’t planned to use any slides or video or whatever, but Carly and Grace were fucking BOSSES throughout camp, including this. They kept going with the flow in ways that we shouldn’t have had to make them flow and we were so grateful.
Kristin Russo: This was the first time we were officially chatting with campers… and it ruled. It was awesome to talk to people who knew about our work, but really, really fucking awesome to introduce new humans to what we do, and how we do it. I LOVE CAMP.
Carly: Watching them talk about what they do, and seeing how much passion they bring to it, was really inspiring and wonderful.
Carolyn Wysinger, Contributor & Firebirds Counselor: During workshop session B I ended up in the most awesome conversation about community and social justice with my cabinmates Maddie, Laura M, Morgan and Carmen. Morgan and I had the most accountable and consensual conversation that has ever been had by anyone ever in life. We talked about fucked-up things in our respective communities (without trying to make it about us) and made jokes. It was awesome and accountable and super crass and fun all at once!
Brittani Nichols, The Talent & Tower of Terror Counselor: Oh, I’m sorry but the movement workshop was perfect and everyone that came was perfect. I’m always nervous doing things that require people to get out of their comfort zone because it’s scary! To see so many people show up and have fun and tell stories with their bodies was amazing. Immediately following that workshop was the best I felt all camp. The power of the arts, I tell ya.
Whitney Pow, Former Contributing Editor & Star Runners Counselor: It was so good running the Introvert Meet Up with Heather Hogan! A lot of people showed up, and we had a wonderful time hanging out, drinking tea, making stylish lanyards, and talking about self-care on the mountain.
Heather Hogan, Senior Editor & Hogwarts Counselor: I was actually shocked to see so many introverts at camp. Shocked and excited! Honestly, just knowing there were other people on the mountain who wanted to connect and learn and grow and have fun, but who also were exhausted at the prospect of doing that in the company of so many other humans, it made me feel very at home. Next year, I’m excited to implement the Friend Stop, which is a concept introduced by one of our campers this year. I think it’s going to be a big hit with the introverts!
Whitney: We chatted about the merits of arranging a regular Buffy the Vampire Slayer watching group in your town, complete with beer and Skype commentary for people who might be far away (which is something my friends and I have done!), and organizing board game nights. Speaking of which, I had the opportunity to play Betrayal at House on the Hill at camp with some lovely campers in Falcon one evening, and I had a great time. If you like board games, you should check this one out.
Heather: Whitney was absolutely the best. So calm and reassuring. It set the tone for a really wonderful camp for me.
Jenny Owen-Youngs, The Talent: I led a music hike with Mal! I was uncertain if the concept was meant to be “hike with musicians” or “hike while music happens” so I borrowed a ukulele from Julia and figured Mal and I could wing it and whatever happened happened. We also realized we had zero idea of where any trails were, so we recruited THE AMAZING ROBIN ROEMER to be our trek tech.
Jenny: While Robin told us which hill to hike up, Mal and I sang a song at everyone and quickly learned a valuable lesson about lung capacity and extreme altitude in combination with actively hiking. When we reached our final destination — a beautiful overlook — Mal and I led singalongs (with varying degrees of success) of T Swift’s “Mean,” Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable,” and Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” (special thanks to camper Kat for handling the verses; turns out Nicki Minaj songs are not like riding a bike, you gotta USE IT OR LOSE IT). I had a LOT of warm and fuzzy feelings while all this was happening. Then RR led us safely back down the mountain, and no one got lost or was eaten by a bear. SUCCESSFUL HIKE!
Bren Christolear, Editorial Assistant & Fried Green Tomatoes Counselor: This year Megan and I shared the responsibility of setting up all the things. Sunday morning Megan was supposed to be in charge of setting things up and I was just gonna help her. Or so I thought. Megan thought I was supposed to be in charge of setting things up and she was helping me! So then we just decided to help each other all the time. I mean, its camp!
Megan O’Grady, Program Support Coordinator: I think we have the best set-up team that mountain has ever seen.