Top 5 Reasons Kids Should Do Theatre
Written by: Cathlyn Melvin
I recently met my first group of 2013 summer campers with my children’s theatre company, Compass Creative Dramatics.
I’m always excited to meet these new faces – some who’ve never done a play before, some who are already pint-sized veterans, and the whole range in between. I know firsthand the amazing benefits that these kids will see – starting with just one week of theatre programming.
As a kid, I was a runner and a gymnast. I sang in choir and played violin. I started theatre latest in life, when I was in sixth grade. I continued all of those activities into my teens, and they all taught me things about myself and about the world. But years later, when I had graduated from college, I looked back at my busy color-coded-calendar days of middle school and high school, and realized that of all the activities I participated in as a kid, theatre taught me the most about who I eventually became.
So I started working with kids, encouraging them in the activity that taught me so much.
Your kid should do theatre. And here’s why:
- They’ll walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. They’ll walk ten. They’ll walk a hundred. When a child reads a character, they’re forced to think, why would he have made that choice? What’s he trying to get from the person he’s talking to? How could he have done it differently? Empathy is one of the top personality skills (yes, skills) necessary for strong corporate leadership later on, and theatre training is even used to ready doctors’ bedside manner. In Lauren Gunderson’s Huffington Post blog, How Theatre for Young People Could Change the World, she says that “so much of the toxicity in this world comes from a collective draining of empathy. We don't understand each other, and we don't want to. But theater invites us -- no, forces us -- to empathize.” This practice lays the foundation for strength and compassion.
- Theatre doesn’t tell you what to feel. Art is based in personal experience. Playing a role, designing a set, seeing a production, I might not see the same images or feel the same impulses as you. And that’s how it’s meant to work. It opens up pathways for all participants to explore their own emotions and views. Involving your kids in art makes them free to think, free to feel, and free to explore who they want to become.
- Theatre is great exposure to literature and history. When I was in first grade, my class took a trip to our community children’s theatre to see a production of Just So Stories. At the time, I didn’t know who Rudyard Kipling was, but afterward, I asked my teacher to help me find the Just So Stories book in our library. Reading the stories, I made connections between what was happening on the page, and what happened during the performance. I learned that Rudyard Kipling was also responsible for one of my favorite Disney movies – that one with Bhageera, and Baloo, and Mowgli – and that this story, too, started out as a book! Now I tour a production of Number the Stars with GreatWorks Theatre Company, and for some of our students, it’s their first introduction to the Holocaust. We take a few minutes after each performance to answer audience questions, and I’m always glad that we do. Because the reality is that theatre is a great way to introduce kids to literary and historical themes.
- Put simply, theatre is therapeutic. Check it out here. And here. This article lists singing, playing games, daydreaming, artistic expression, team activities, and imagining the future as six of the “Top 10 Stress Relief Strategies From Your Inner Child.” And, hey – theatre includes all six.
- Theatre provides the freedom to not be perfect. At Compass Creative Dramatics, we tell our students “Be big, be loud, be silly! it’s not about sounding pretty. It’s about telling a story and having fun.” So we encourage the kids to try things. Let loose. If it doesn’t work, that’s okay – now we know and we can try something new! This Mom Congress Report from parenting.com asserts that "There's no right answer in art, which means they can explore, connect new ideas, and learn from what they feel were their successes and failures without negative consequences. They just can't get all that in math or history."
The same article goes on to interview Joe Breault, a principal at a K-8 charter school in California. He says: "There's no doubt that an arts program makes kids better at everything they take on. It helps them become well-rounded, well-prepared thinkers and citizens of the world – and that should be our main goal."
I couldn’t agree more.
So when I meet my first round of 2013 summer camp students, I’m excited to find out who they are. But I’m looking forward even more to who’ll they’ll be on their way to being when they walk out of our doors again next Friday – a little braver, a little more creative, with a foundation laid for a critical thinking, empathy, and their future as citizens of the world.