Relive those bygone days of summer with this grown up version of camp. Water fights, sing-a-longs, and even a sleep over at Camp JCA Shalom offer kids-at-heart a bit of Wet Hot American Summer. Adult Color Wars is the brainchild of Jennifer Rheuban who wanted to create a space where working types could cast aside their neckties and power suits and get down-and-dirty in tug-of-war matches and dodgeball melees. It’s not glamping, a cuddle party, or rehab in the woods. Imagine a G-rated Braveheart where two clans battle for victory and bragging rights. Whether you stay for a day or an overnight excursion, the confab, like Proust’s madeleine moment, recalls those halcyon days of adolescence like water balloon to the face.
We caught up with Rheuban to discuss memories of camp crushes past, why being an adult can kind of suck, and the authentic camp experience.
What happens Adult Color Wars?
When you show up to Adult Color Wars–whether you do the overnight or the day event–the only thing you know about the person standing next to you is that you are on the same color team. They have face paint on; so do you. They want to have fun and act like a kid; so do you. You have no idea what car this person drives, where they live, what they do, or what their financial portfolio looks like. To top it off, there’s no cell service at camp.
While the main premise is the different color teams that are competing, we are also creating a community of people. There’s a tug-of-war, a water balloon toss, a relay race, gaga (dodge ball in a pit), a song and cheer competition, a flip-cup with water contest, and more.
For people attending the overnight, there’s also a scavenger hunt, a campfire, s’mores, a nighttime hike, and a few other surprises. The best part about getting people around a campfire at night is that you never know what will happen; last time we had an impromptu Footloose dance party.
When did you think of this project?
I spent all of my summers as a child up at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu. It was one of the most transformative things I had growing up. As an adult in my 30’s I found myself longing not only for a way to go back to some of the carefree times at camp but to give back to the place that made me who I am today.
There is something to be said about the memories you create when you are on a team competing side by side with someone. I thought of the kind of opportunities we have to experience this as an adult and realized there weren’t any. Adult Color Wars not only provided other adults with the camp experience, it gave me a chance to recreate the kind of accepting community I experienced as a child.
What were your own camp experiences like?
Camp is the one place in my life that I can say that I have a memory attached to every square foot. Even now I can be there and close my eyes and remember something from being 8, 12, 18, and now with Adult Color Wars, 36. The experience of camp isn’t one great thing, it was all the little things like: hugging a tree after trying to sneak out of my cabin, singing Grease during breakfast, Saturday dances, water fights in the white house (the main counselor hangout area), the boys of B6, travel camp, the summer of 1990, the songs “American Pie,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and “Wild World,” scraping plates after the meal, crazy song sessions, lanyards, friendship bracelets, tie-dye shirts, hanging out on the chicken coop, playing spit (the card game) during rest hour. It was knowing you’d get a Shabbat-o-Gram from your best friends every Friday and hoping the guy you had a crush on would give you one too. The San Diego boys, the friends, the laughter, the tears, the hugs. Camp is more than just a memory for me, it was my whole childhood.
What was one of your most memorable camp crushes?
Spending twelve summers at camp gives you more than your fair share of crushes. I can think of four that stand out for me, and I’m actually friends with all of them to this day. One of them is my closest and oldest friend. It’s not so much about who you had a crush on, it was about the way you got to know the person, watching them slow dance with another girl at the dance on Saturday night and feeling the heartbreak. On the reverse side, there’s the experience of your first kiss behind the boys’ cabin or finding out your crush actually likes you. Emotions were always so heightened at camp because you are with people 24 hours a day; it encourages you to open your heart and take a chance. That boy you like could be your first true love–or your first heartbreak. Regardless of the result, they are both worth it!
Why is it important for adults to go to camp?
As we enter our twenties, the only thing on our “resumé” that we know how to do well is be a kid. The pressure on ourselves to finish college, get a job, create a career, be a success, fall in love–essentially to figure it all out–makes us put the kid inside on the backburner, or forget about it completely. By our early to mid-thirties, another set of life changes happen and that feeling of being comfortable in our skin isn’t a constant struggle anymore. Our “life resumé” has a better balance of time spent as a child and as an adult. I think it’s important for adults to go to camp because it helps to keep the child inside alive. There are things that we do as kids that we tell ourselves we can’t or shouldn’t do as adults, and our world becomes smaller as a result. I love the idea of going back to camp as an adult because it gives me a different outlet for socializing that isn’t at a bar or a professional networking event; it’s about disconnecting and being real.