Summer camp was always a magical time for future Broadway star Idina Menzel. “I loved being able to reinvent myself during the summer, and not be judged by the same group of kids I saw in school,” she says. So when she grew up and found success as an artist, Menzel regularly talked about finding a way to make that opportunity available to other girls. Fortunately, she talked about it with her college pal Heather Zuckerman, a “type-A business person,” who eventually said, “I’m done talking about this, let’s do it.”
Fast forward to 2010, and the inaugural summer camp of A Broader Way, which Menzel founded with her husband, Taye Diggs, (from whom she is separated). The organization takes a small group of girls from urban communities out to the Berkshires and gives them a place to express themselves, and learn self-confidence through performance. Menzel and other stage veterans are also there with the girls during the camp’s 10-day program, working on songs, poems, writing and stagecraft.
“There’s a beautiful intimacy about the camp,” she says. “The counselors perform that first night, to show the girls they can make themselves vulnerable.” And by the end of the 10 days, the campers themselves are prepared for a performance staged for their parents.
This is not a performing arts camp; Menzel says they take everyone who auditions. For now, finances mean the group still has to remain small — they started with 30 girls and have worked up to just about double that, with a lot of repeat campers. But there are big plans to hopefully expand to other cities in the coming years.
“It’s about using the arts to help girls find their own voice,” says Menzel. “There’s a lot of young women who don’t know how to use their voice literally and figuratively. These girls get to be the authors of their own life.”