Programming Special Events

How to Run an Effective Campfire Program

Campfire programs are one of my favorite parts of summer camp. They are a staple of the resident camp experience, and they can be a wonderful addition to an overnight experience at day camps.

Though there are many ways to run a campfire program – from vespers to simply roasting marshmallows – this article is about a program that involves skits and songs.

If you are interested in including an evening activity with skits and songs (around a campfire or not) but aren’t sure where to start, or you have a similar program, but it doesn’t really have any structure to it, then this post is for you.

Side Note: When I mention the word “campfire”, it is in reference to the program and not the actual fire. You can certainly run a “campfire” program indoors if there is inclement weather.

I typically run two campfires each week, one on the first night and the other on the last.

FIRST NIGHT CAMPFIRE

The first night campfire program is full of skits and songs performed by staff only. This format shows campers that it’s okay to be silly. It’s also a safe evening activity that does not require campers to be in front of others. Camp, in general, can be a lot to process for first time campers. It’s best to ease them into participation.

The campfire program also introduces new campers to camp songs. This way they are familiar with the songs when they sing them before a meal, during a special event, while they are walking to another activity, during downtime, or whenever else camp songs tend to spontaneously breakout at your camp.

FINAL CAMPFIRE

On the final night (or the night prior, if you do a special vesper program or something similar on the last night) the campers get their chance to do a skit in front of the rest of camp. After seeing staff perform skits, most of the campers want a shot at performing their own skits. The staff still lead the camp songs, but they might bring a camper or two up each time to help them out.

THE FORMAT

PRE-CAMPFIRE

As groups arrive make sure that they sit together. Have their counselors sit with them, as well. You want groups to bond as soon as possible, so they should be sitting with each other on the first night. At the final campfire you still need them all together so you can easily get them “backstage” before their skit. If campers are spread out, sitting wherever they want, you’ll have to gather them up, which will disrupt the whole program. So keep them together.

The counselor should always be sitting with their own groups to supervise them and to show them that it’s ok (cool, in fact) to sing camp songs, and to set an example on how to behave at a campfire (clap, sing, laugh, refrain from talking, etc.). This cannot happen if they are standing in the back with other staff. Chances that campers will talk and disrupt others increase if their counselor is not around.

THE BEGINNING

The format of the show starts off with some fun, but not too crazy, skits and songs. You want to warm the audience up. The songs should not be ones that require yelling, but they also shouldn’t be slow songs either.

TIP: Write out a list of your songs and then number them from 1-5 on their energy level. For example, Linger would be a 1, and Boom Chicka Boom would be a 5. Start the evening off with a song that is around a 3.

Hosts
You need to have a host (MC) or two. I personally like having two people run the show. They can play off each other, and it’s not all on the shoulders of just one person.

Introduction
The hosts should start off with an Introduction by welcoming everyone and explaining what campfire is all about. They can also make any announcements they need to and go over any “respect” rules (no talking, no heckling, sing the songs, etc.).

Opening Skit
Next have the hosts do an opening skit. Sometimes I like to do the opening skit before I welcome everyone and give any announcements. A good opener is Tex.


Tex
Tex is an arcade game. The person playing Tex holds a Super Soaker watergun, His head is down and he is looking at the ground standing very still (he’s a machine, after all).

The other person (Kid) comes into the “arcade”.

Kid: “Oh, Wow! Look at this arcade. It’s totally cool. I thought all the arcades went out of business. (Seeing Tex) Holy Moly! Is that Tex? Oh, I have to play that game”.

Kid fishes out a pretend quarter from his/her pocket and puts it into the Tex game. (S)He then picks up the pistol at Tex’ feet and stands back, ready to draw.

Tex raises his head.

Tex: “Howdy, I’m Tex, fastest gun in the west. If you think you’re faster than me, draw at the count of three. One…Two…” (Tex shoots water at the Kid and turns off, lowering his head.)

Kid: “What!? That’s not fair. There was no three.”

Kid kicks Tex and then puts in another quarter and stands back.

Tex: “Howdy, I’m Tex, fastest gun in the west. If you think you’re faster than me, draw at the count of three. One…Two…” (Tex shoots water at the Kid and turns off, lowering his head.)

Kid: “Are you kidding me? What is wrong with this thing?”

Kid shakes Tex and looks around it to see if something is wrong. Kid then puts another quarter in Tex.

Tex: “Howdy, I’m Tex, fastest gun in the west. If you think you’re faster than me, draw at the count of three. One…Two…” (Tex says “two” like he has just run out of batteries and then lowers his head.)

Kid: “Noooo! It broke? What a waste of money!”

Kid drops the gun, turns around and starts walking away.

Tex: “Three!” (Tex shoots the rest of the water at the back of Kid.)


I like this skit because it only requires two people, and it’s highly entertaining.

After the skit and welcome. It’s time for a song. The hosts can lead the songs or they can let others do that. Before the first song is presented, you might want to talk about why it’s important and expected that everyone participates. Talk about what being “cool” means at camp. It doesn’t have to be a long talk, just something quick so new campers understand that this is what happens at camp.

Rotate between songs and skits, one skit than one song, and on and on.

TIP: ALWAYS have the next “act” prepare off stage where they cannot be seen. This is called “being on deck”. Staff (or campers) need to prepare before going on stage. This means gathering any props, putting on any costumes, getting into character, etc. Then, after the song, you can introduce them and they are ready to go.

TIP: NEVER allow for dead time on the stage. This is the main reason for campfire hosts. If staff are not ready with their skit, it is up to the hosts to fill the time. That’s where time fillers like “It’s All Around Me” are for.


It’s All Around Me
One person is on the stage and is just starting to introduce the next skit. All of a sudden the second person runs up on stage frantically yelling…

2nd person: “It’s all around me! It’s all around me!”
1st person: “Whoa, whoa, whoa…settle down. Are you alright?”
2nd person: “No, I’m not.”
1st person: “Why not? What’s wrong?”
2nd person: (yelling again) “It’s all around me!”
1st person: (calm, but a little worried…looking all around) “What’s all around you?”
2nd person: “My belt.”

First person throws up their hands and walks off. Second person smiles and bows to the audience, then introduces the next skit.


These types of time fillers are made specifically to keep the audience engaged when the next act is not ready. Kids get bored when there is dead air, nothing happening on stage. The hosts may need to stall for an even longer period of time. Maybe a staff person had to run to a cabin to get a prop. The host should be prepared with a song in this case.

TIP: This also brings up another important point. HAVE A SCHEDULE. It is important to have a schedule so staff know when they are expected to perform. It also lays the groundwork for the hosts. Post the schedule up before the campfire and/or hand copies out to the staff earlier in the day.

THE MIDDLE

As you get closer to the middle of the program, ramp things up. Feel free to throw a couple of logs on the fire to get the flames higher. At the middle of the program is where you should have your loudest song and your most outrageous skit. Normally, I would say that you should leave your best and craziest stuff until the end and leave everyone on a super high note, but this is night time and the campers go to bed after this. So, you need time to bring it down.

THE ENDING

Once you have hit the middle and the kids are amped up, it’s time to bring the party back to earth. Each song should be more mellow than the one previous. The last song or two should be a quiet, sentimental songs.

TIP: Once you get into the quiet songs, have the audience snap fingers instead of clapping if they like something. It helps set the tone.

Story
Before singing the closing song, tell a story that has a moral. This will require one of your staff who has a gift for storytelling. If one of the directors is willing to be that person, even better. Stories can range from Native American Lore to Bible Parables, Bedtime Stories to Historical Accounts. A Google search will provide plenty of ideas.


Create a Rain Storm

Another one of my favorite ways to close a campfire.

Tell the audience the following: “You all are going to create a rain storm. There should be no talking. When I am in front of you do whatever action I am doing and continue that action until I am in front of you again.”

Start at one end of the audience and begin rubbing your hands together. As you’re rubbing them together slowly walk to the other side. As more people begin rubbing their hands, the sound will grow louder.

Once they are all rubbing their hands go to the end you started at and snap your fingers. Again, you will move from one end of the audience to the next and campers and staff will change from rubbing their hands to snapping their fingers when you get to them.

Repeat this with different actions. Here’s all of them from beginning to end:

  1. Rub Hands
  2. Snap Fingers
  3. Pat Your Thighs
  4. Intermittent Clapping
  5. Stomping Feet
  6. Intermittent Clapping
  7. Pat Your Thighs
  8. Snap Fingers
  9. Run Hands
  10. Everyone Quiet

Now you can quietly dismiss the groups (unless you’re ending with a story).


Dismissal

After the closing song, dismiss groups one at a time and ask the counselors to keep the campers quiet as they leave and go back to their cabins. This helps the counselors with bedtime. If the campers start getting loud and energetic once they leave, the counselors have to start all over with trying to get them to wind down before lights out.

You can also lead a quiet song and dismiss cabins one at a time during the song.


Sample Schedule

Campfire starts at 7pm | Dan and Cassie will be hosting it

Jake in maintenance will build and start the fire. Peter’s cabin will help gather kindling.

Welcome and Intro (Dan and Cassie)
Tex (Dan and Cassie)
Tarzan Song (Lucas, Phil and Nicole)
Fishing Skit (Ray and Mike)
Button Factory Song (Lori, Susan and Jessica)
Invisible Bench Skit (Becca, Michelle, Jeff, Layla and Robbie)
A Roosta Sha Song (Dan and Cassie)
Doctor’s Office Skit (Skip, Bobby, Jeff, Susan, Carrah and Layla)
Boom Chick Boom Song (Phil, Patti and Peter)
Director’s Skit (Mike, Ray, Lucas, Skip, Lori and Robbie)
Little Red Wagon Song (Michelle, Ray and Layla)
Firing Squad Skit (Peter, Jessica, Lori, Mike, Phil, Susan and Patti)
Hermie the Worm Song (Jessica and Bobby)
Echo Skit (Lucas, Jeff, Robbie and Skip)
Black Socks Song (Dan and Cassie)
Make a Rain Storm (Dan)
On the Loose Song (Patti, Nicole and Peter)
The House Builder Story (Curt)
Linger Song (Dan, Cassie, Becca and Carrah)
Dismiss Groups (Dan and Cassie)

 


 

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