I Survived The Alamo Drafthouse Sleepaway Camp Weekend (Again)

A new year yields a whole new experience.

All images by Heather Leah Kennedy

The sun is out, school is almost done, mom and dad are sick of your faces. The time for camp has arrived. That’s all well and good for you brats. But what about mom and dad themselves? It’s not enough to shove you out of the house for a week. They deserve a camp of their own. Even if mom and dad don’t have kids.

This is where Alamo Drafthouse’s Sleepaway Camp comes in. For a whole weekend, grown-ass adults can get away from it all and enjoy the pleasures of camp activities, a beautiful lake and tons of beer. What the heck, booze too. Do you think the joy of swinging from a gigantic pendulum rope goes away the moment you start paying taxes? Think again! (Don't worry, I didn't break it this year.)

For the second year in a row, I enjoyed the privilege of such an escape. And believe me, I needed it. But even though the venue and a large portion of the participants were the same, 2019 offered a much different year than I experienced in 2018.

The main factor at play this year was weather. Given that you spend most of your time at camp outdoors, it makes sense that Mother Nature plays a big role in how you spend your time. Nevertheless, I took it for granted that May in Texas would be sunny and hot and gorgeous. Instead, it was dark and rainy and - especially once the sun went down - a bit chilly. Suddenly the “roughing it” part of camp asserted itself and shifted activity priorities for the weekend.

This ended up being an unexpected blessing. I did not pack clothes for such a weekend, but I embraced the challenge. Instead of trying to keep my feet dry, I simply gave up and stomped through all the mud I wanted. Water activities became an act of noble courage, and for those who lacked such fortitude (myself included), we now had an opportunity to focus on parts of the camp that usually play second fiddle to the lake. Though, to be sure, plenty of brave souls got in there anyway.

For instance, I totally skipped Camp Champion’s rope climbing course last year. I had plenty of time to conquer it this year however, time I needed because I found the whole thing utterly terrifying. Nevertheless, I made it to the top and rang the bell, indicating to everyone below that I was not a coward regardless of how much I cried.

Devoting some real time to archery was another perk. I won’t say I ever got good at it, but by the time I was done with the activity, I had finally received enough tips from patient counselors to be able to do it at all. Progress!

The true genius is Alamo Drafthouse’s Sleepaway Camp is the Color Wars. When you arrive, you are given a bandana indicating your team. While you are welcome to walk around camp doing activities a la carte, each station runs a competition at certain times. Following that schedule ensures you get the most out of camp as the competition makes it very easy to bond and make friends with your fellow teammates as well as foment rivalries with opposing team members, which is perhaps even more fun. It can be hard to make friends out of strangers, especially as grownups. Color Wars alleviates some of that awkwardness in glorious fashion.

Things popped off Friday night with a karaoke contest, followed by dinner, s’mores, a mixer, movies and, this year, a live band doing awesome ‘90s covers (in accordance with this year’s ‘90s theme). By the time you finally went to sleep that first night, it was nearly impossible to not at least be visually familiar with some of your teammates. And there was a whole two days left.

That’s really the trick of the whole thing. Over the course of the weekend, you will get to know folks a lot more than you expect. Even the people you just see over and over again become ingrained in your brain as part of the experience, making the whole thing a perfect recreation of the summer camps of our youth (even if you only saw them in movies). Through triumph and defeat, memories are forged that you’ll cherish more than you probably anticipate, and I say from experience. I love all my camp people, even the ones I hate. Here's to another great visit to camp in 2020.