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Children's Theater: How the Stage Can Light Your Child

When I’m not writing for MomSquad, I am the receptionist at a children’s theater. I watch groups of kids day after day going in and out of rehearsal. I hear them learning their parts and choreography. I hear them celebrate. I hear them complain. I hear it all. Over time, I have noticed that there is a marked change in their faces. Nervous faces become excited, eyes alight with new confidence. The songs and scenes become stronger. The show gets performance ready. I know theater is not everyone’s cup of tea, but observing the effects it had on these kids (and me, when I was their age), I’m sure that it can be an incredibly positive experience for a growing child. 

I got my first acting role when I was eleven years old, an ensemble part in A Christmas Carol. From the outside, acting had seemed like it would be easy, but I quickly found this wasn’t the case. After the nerve-wracking audition were songs and blocking to memorize — all while staying entirely in character. Plus, I endured long rehearsal hours as I waited my turn in the scene. But, after all that hard work, I came away with a love for the stage. Playing a part was a massive boost to my self-image. Whenever my little self was feeling low, she could take stock of what good things she did, and say, “Oh, I memorized a whole part for a play!” and “Well, I did a great job onstage!” The youngsters at my theater have experienced a similar change, always talking excitedly of how well their performances went… and what they are going to do for the next one! Acting and memorizing in front of a crowd can be frightening, especially for littles, but the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a show makes one giddy with pride and joy. 

Another benefit of children’s theater is lessons of commitment and teamwork. When you join a cast, you enter an agreement: make a good show. To honor this agreement, everyone has to pull their own weight and help each other along. In one of my plays, the director would have us perform an exercise before we began. We would make eye contact with someone near us and say, “I will lift you up. I will not let you down.” This would go on until we had told everyone in the room that we would lift them up. It was pretty uncomfortable for the first few weeks. After a while though, we meant it. Exercises like this are a great way to bring out the camaraderie a cast shares. When you are in a cast, it is your duty to make the show the best it can be, and that means working with others. As a receptionist, I can see that it’s tough for the kids to learn that at first. They don’t want to work with others; they wanna be a star. But, eventually,  the kids leave with a newfound appreciation for the power of teamwork and the importance of sticking to a task until it’s done. 

There is pressure with the agreement — after all, if you don’t practice, then you won’t look good on stage — but it is a highly effective way to teach responsibility. I’ve seen children who would rather goof off than pay attention. They chat and make jokes and laugh at silly blocking. But, as rehearsals progress, they slowly come around to be much more involved. They look like they want to be there. They want to be successful. They’ve come to realize that they are committed to something bigger … but they can still have fun along the way!  

As someone who has been acting for over a decade, I can confidently say: there’s no friendships like show friendships! A play brings people together —  especially when you have to be around them for months at a time! Every time I’m cast in a show, I form friendships. A stage bond stays long after the play is over. I know two little girls who were in several plays together. At first they barely even knew each other’s names. I watched them enter the theater every day. Their friendship blossomed. I would overhear them planning to hang out after rehearsal. I hear them talk about boys they like, and boys they definitely don’t like. Those two are practically joined at the hip! It reminds me of when I was their age, except I was much more shy and frightened at first. My casts warmed me up to the idea of new people and friendships, and countless children have had the same experience. If your child is having trouble making new friends, finding a safe, supportive theater for them is a great step.

That is one crucial thing to remember about children’s theater: Not all of them have good environments. By nature, the world of actors and directors is not the easiest. Some are excellent, others not so much. My theater has done an incredible job at making the hard work constructive rather than destructive. Some theaters don’t do nearly as much to lift up children and make them feel safe enough to bloom. Of course, I’m not saying to regard them all with suspicion. It just pays to make sure that you choose a place that is the right fit for your child, and will do its utmost to leave him or her with a happy, healthy experience. 

Theater is not for everyone, of course, just as not everyone likes the same flavor of ice cream. But as someone who has been raised around the ups and downs of the stage, I assure you that it is at least worth a try. It certainly took me a while, but theater has changed my life, opening up a new world of art, friendship and lots of laughter! If you think your child would love the stage, or just want them to try something new, then acting is a great start. Who knows? It might be just the stepping stone they need to light the world like never before.

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