Ye Olde Summer Campe

Mystical Austin-area forest rekindles the magic with summer camp for grown-ups

Mystical Austin-area forest rekindles magic with grown-ups summer camp

Sherwood Forest summer campers
Get thee to camp! Sherwood Forest/Facebook

Summer camp season is approaching, and that means we’re all feeling a little bit of FOMO as people younger and less inhibited than us go romping through fields, burning s’mores, and shooting stuff with arrows. Some of us got that all out of our systems at the Renaissance fair, which came to an end at Sherwood Forest a few weeks ago.

But what’s a remote tech-support worker (on the outside) who’s really a chaotic neutral mage (on the inside) to do? Have faith, ye olde fellow. Perchance there’s such a camp adventure for you.

On Friday, June 18, Sherwood Forest will host its ninth annual grown-up summer camp. Adults 21 and older can journey out to McDade, Texas, just east of Austin, and relive their summer camp days with an axe-throwing, theatre-troupe twist.

Over three days, each camper trains in five areas of choice (from a list of 29) and spends downtime at the pool or camp pub. It’s a lot like the fair, but you learn a lot more — and get to sleep in a castle. Were CultureMap to chose a curriculum, it would include Adventuring 101 (tabletop, not woods), Divination, Drumming, Mead Making, and Medieval Art: Painted Glass and Ebru. We would also take a town crier class, if only there were one.

Camp Director Teach Minchew says his specialty at the camp is being a loudmouth, but there’s a lot more to say. The science teacher of 22 years has been overseeing counselor training, planning out-of-class activities, and getting to know campers year after year. Like Sherwood Forest’s Renaissance fair and the youth summer camp, this community thrives on connections, and many people make a yearly visit. Some have been there every year since the beginning.

The idea started when parents, understandably, were feeling envious about sending their kids to summer camp.

“I had a lot of grown-ups keep saying that it sounds so cool and they wish they could do it,” says Minchew.

He decided to give the grown-ups a try, and 60 campers arrived for the inaugural camp year. The next year, enrollment grew to more than 100. Those numbers represent all kinds of campers, from 21-years-olds to those in their 70s. Of the 130 campers enrolled so far this year, about half are camping or bringing RVs, while the other half will stay in the Great Hall.

Everyone will come together for three meals a day, a fire-spinning performance by Solar Rain, and a big Saturday feast featuring two bands. Sunday night, campers who took the theater class will enact a final performance and lead improv games for everyone else.

Even if they’re not on a stage, campers can put their skills to use after leaving the forest grounds. Minchew talks about Karl, a camper who started the Leatherworking class out of curiosity, then got so much practice at home that he’s now good enough to teach.

“He’s made just about everything you could think of out of leather,” Minchew says, noting that Karl decided he would prefer to continue attending as a camper, for now.

The group of counselors at Sherwood gathered organically, as more artisans and entertainers went looking for an organization that understands them. One fair magician often pictured with a cigar, John “MadMan” Maverick, was hired to teach a magic and storytelling class, but pivoted to Axe and Knife Throwing when he realized how universal the draw was in that part of his act.

While the Swordplay class focuses on choreographed stage battles, it teaches students how to handle real swords, too. You know, just in case. The course listing promises “a few necessary dirty tricks.” Other skills that’ll be useful for holistic Southern living (or Etsy) include Chivalry, Horsemanship, and a variety of woodworking classes.

The second episode of Sherwood’s new podcast, Word of the Wood, offers some deeper, yet characteristically irreverent insight into other grown-up camp classes. One of the show favorites is The Art of the Crook. (“Lose friends. Frustrate people. Possibly get arrested. But hey, it’s fun!” says the catalog.)

Minchew says his favorite part of camp is “the comradery. You have such a blast with each other, it’s kind of, sort of become a little family group after awhile.”

Registration for the 2021 camp ($449 per person) is open until June 16, two days before camp starts. There is currently space for about 50 more campers. The first of three youth camp sessions, for ages 7 to 16, starts on July 4.