YouTuber Meghan Rienks is about to turn the concept of fan and creator interaction on its head by taking 250 of her biggest fans to camp this summer.
“It’s like a VidCon kind of thing, but VidCon on steroids,” joked Rienks.Reinks’ Camp Aim, set for May in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, is part of a slate of YouTuber-run camps scheduled this summer that aim to bring IRL experiences to the digital set. They’re a new extension for online celebrities who’ve turned to book tours, stage tours, and meet-ups to connect in person with their ballooning fanbases.
“I don’t want it to be like a VidCon where it’s a free-for-all thing and if people want to talk to me they have to be really confident and push their way forward,” Rienks explained. “I’ll be there the whole time. Everyone has the opportunity to have one-on-one time and talk, in a very structured way. That’s why we didn’t want the camp to be huge, either. It’s a camp—not VidCon where they sleep over.”
“When I first signed with CAA, this was something I’d always talked about,” Rienks explained about her camp obsession. “I wanted to do a camp. I had come up with the list of activities, but there were so many projects coming up, it was always something on the radar.”
Rienks made her mark on her 2.1 million YouTube subscribers with content ranging from vlogs to cooking tutorials to challenges. Then, shortly after signing to CAA in March 2015, Mills Entertainment, the production company behind several popular YouTube tours, approached the agency about the summer camp project, and Rienks was an obvious fit. Finally she could put all the jotted-down ideas and plans into more capable hands to help see them to fruition.
“You go away to a summer camp and you feel like you can grow up and become a different person.”
“For me, I am such a creative mind, I don’t necessarily think of the logistics,” she said. “They are extreme pros at all of this.”
Camp Aim costs $1,095 for a four-day, three-night experience, which includes a color run, a cook-off, ziplines, and yoga for fans between the ages of 10 and 17. When Rienks herself was at that age, she spent summers at sleepaway acting camp, and she eventually practiced her counselor skills a couple of years ago by shooting a reality show about returning to her own summer camp. The show never aired, but her memories of it are still fond.
“I never thought I’d become a counselor when I was a kid, but it was such an amazing experience,” she said. “I’m in a group text with all of the girls that were in my cabin, I talk to them all the time. They got to know me more than just through YouTube videos, so for me this was a really natural transition because I had a taste of it.”
She’ll take some of her learnings from that experience to her own camp in August.
“You forget what it’s like to be that young and make bad decisions,” she said. “One day an 8-year-old girl was shoulder-deep with her hand down a hole, and she said, ‘I can almost catch a snake.’ Get your hand out of that hole!”
Rienks wants her camp to be a place with “no preconceived notions, no cliques” and a safe and accepting environment for people to try out new things.
“What I loved so much about camp was it was such an amazing experience to be whoever you wanted to be, however cheesy that sounds,” she said. “It comes at such an important point in an adolescent life. You go away to a summer camp and you feel like you can grow up and become a different person.”
She understands why her fans would be into it, too: If there had been a Hilary Duff camp or a Jonas Brothers camp when she was growing up, Rienks “would have died.”
“I was obsessed with the Jonas Brothers,” she laughed. “I woke up at 4am to be first in line for a Jonas Brothers concert. I grew up in the era of Lizzie McGuire. Anything Disney Channel I was all over. If there was a Disney camp, I would have been there.”
In that spirit, her camp will feature a mix of things she did in her own camping adolescence, things she wishes she’d gotten to do at camp, and activities her fans would recognize as part of her YouTube life.
“I do a bunch of baking segments and cooking stuff, and that’s going to be something fun,” she said.
More important to Rienks is the bonding and cabin time—and the emphasis on a girls-only environment.
“There’s going to be no, ‘I have a crush on X,Y, and Z,’” Rienks said “It’s going to be girl power, which I wish my camp had been like.”
She also wants to curate an environment where even the most shy fans feel like they can still connect with her, unlike the higher-pressure environments of a live show or a VidCon.
“What’s so heartbreaking to me is I’ll get a message from a fan saying, ‘I wanted to say hi, but I backed out,’” Rienks explained. “I wanted camp to be a lot of smaller group talking, so everyone who might not be confident enough to run up and hug you will feel like they had some time too. I’m lucky in a sense because I’m very much the same person online and offline. So even if they feel nervous the first day, after a couple of hours they’ll realize I’m not leaving and they’ll be able to enjoy it and appreciate it for what it is.”
Camp Aim kicks off Aug. 22 in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. Fans can register online now.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article listed the location for the camp as Running Springs, California, and the start date as May 27. Organizer Camp17 has changed the date and location of the camp to Aug. 22, in Mukwonago, Wisconsin.