Our Safe Haven.

My husband and I made a big decision a few months back. It was to downsize our business and cut out the dance studio portion and become strictly a children’s theatre. Although, there were plenty of skeptics and we could think of a million reasons not to do it, we just had to go with our gut feeling. We had to go with where we felt we could have the most influence.

As we have been in business the last 16 years, i have noticed that kids, particularly tweens in general, have become less patient, filled with attitude, sass and a sense of entitlement and have lost a bit of their compassion. Suddenly, as they become less child like, they seem to have lost that spark. It began to occur to me that I once was like that and then I discovered theatre and it put me down a path that helped me avoid irreparable damage. What we teach these kids at our theatre, will have an incredible effect on how they treat others around them and on their self esteem.

I know the impact theatre can have on a young kid’s life, because it had an impact on mine. I was the gawky kid, the one with few friends, the one who didn’t fit in and what theatre did for me is a gift I can never repay.We all need someone to believe in us and make us feel good about ourselves and that’s what theatre has always done for me. When I feel the love and support from a theatre family, suddenly the world doesn’t seem so big and my confidence soars.

Theatre became my safe haven as I hope it does for the hundreds of kids that come through our doors. Here is a safe place where no one should feel attacked or judged on looks, intelligence or talent. I found my safe haven growing up. I was a hot mess growing up. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was 40 pounds overweight, wore glasses and was about to get braces. I hated what I looked like in the mirror and would feel left out as my other friends got invited to parties and I didn’t. I didn’t feel like I fit in at school or anywhere else for that matter. On a whim, my parents got involved in our local community theatre to try and find a outlet for me. Those folks welcomed me with open arms, never belittled me for my appearance. They just accepted me as I was and didn’t try to change me.

I continued participating in theatre throughout high school and I just remember they always had a place for me, either on stage or off and always made me feel included. When I would bump into a fellow theatre member either at school or out in public, they would go out of their way to speak to me or give me a smile or make me feel included. It meant the world to me. As I began college, I was exposed to many temptations to go down undesirable paths and if it hadn’t been for gentle nudgings from my theatre family, my life could have turned out very differently.

Our biggest wish, is that the kids we train will encourage each other this way too, especially if we model it for them. For i know, how we treat our students will help shape the way they treat one another. We must think of our tone too. Do we show them they matter? That they have an opinion that counts? Are we kind and patient? Do we encourage them by pointing out what they did well in class? Do we support them both on stage and off?

It reminded me of a great quote by blogger and author Rachel Stafford, “We all need someone in our corner … to have our back … to believe in us when we don’t believe in ourselves. We can do that, my friends. We can do that for our sisters … our brothers … our children … and for each other. We can do that for the people who are learning how to treat others by watching us live.”

So, we will offer a safe haven to children out there in the hopes they will become a safe haven to others and be a light in this sometimes very dark world.

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If These Walls Could Talk

I read a blog the other day, that was talking about 12 things every dad should do with their kid each year and how important it is to make moments with your child. It got me to thinking it is so important to make memories as a family. The article went on to say that by engaging in activities with your child, this helps spark their creativity and passion, that it’s like seeds laying dormant waiting to be awakened. By exposing our kids to these experiences and by sharing in these experiences with them, I feel they feel supported and can let loose and grow as a human being. As I always do, I try to find a connection of how this can be applied to theatre and more specifically the type of program we have at OBCT.

The most obvious tie in is to see a show with your kid. Certainly, it might be exposing them to something that can inspire and ignite a spark of passion in them. That’s how it happened for me. When I was 11 years old, my mom took me to see a touring production of “Annie” in Birmingham, Al and I new right then and there, I needed to be up on that stage with those little girls. Now although I never landed a national tour, theatre has afforded me the rich and blessed life I have lived and continue to live.’

By taking classes in the arts, you are allowing your child the opportunity to be mentored and guided and exposed to the very thing that has sparked their curiosity and interest. Although, you as a family don’t directly share the class involvement, unless you help out with the class,  you share in the memories they relay to you every time they hop into the car after class. As they get older, they may act all cool like they don’t want to share any feedback from the class, but deep down inside if it’s truly something they have a passion for, they want someone to share those thought with and to support them.

Wow, being in a show certainly fits the bill on providing a creative outlet for your child. It’s like providing your child with multiple life lessons in one fail swoop and better yet they are building friendships along the way. All while pursuing their passion. It’s a win win all around.

While all those things are important, it is my hope that we have established something more at OBCT and I hope more children’s theatres around the country do as well. We say, our goal is to connect kids, but also know we connect families. Sure in our situation, we travel together to competitions and retreats which naturally helps us get to know one another together and form a bond. But I also think we connect families in the day to day life. If the walls in our studio could talk, you would see countless memories of families who have shared births of babies, deaths of loved ones, graduations, new pets, shared journeys through cancer and other terminal illnesses, awards that have been won, celebrated personal victories all shared with our extended family members at OBCT.

I know in my personal experience, it truly does take a village to raise a child and my family at OBCT has helped me raise my children. They have donated clothing, toys, fed my kids, worked magic to get them to sleep as babies, schlepped them through airports for me, come to my home at 2am in the morning to babysit while I see about a family emergency. All of these things would not have been possible without my OBCT family and the memories we have made together. This connected family we have here  and the memories we create every day, are what fuel my passion and my own children and continue to spark our creativity every day. You can’t  do life alone. We need each other.

To the Mom of the Screaming Preschooler

Got your attention? Good, I want to talk to you. I know you are frustrated. Did you have to carry your child out of Ballet class this week screaming or off the soccer field or out of the gymnastics place? We have all been there, and let me assure you this is no reflection on you as a mother or has any effect on the future success of your child’s achievements. Dear moms, this too shall pass and although it may feel like a million eyes are watching or judging you, I am sure the other parents just feel compassion and know what it feels like to be in your shoes. Remember, God never gives us more than we can bear and I truly believe that these little tests God puts out there, are meant to strengthen our faith in him and show us that if we just rely on him, he will always give us the strength to press on.

I have so been right there where you are. My daughter tried gymnastics when she was four. After the third class, the instructor came out and suggested to me that maybe gymnastics wasn’t her thing because she cried the entire hour of all three classes. My son did the same thing at soccer and karate. And let me tell you, at the time I was mortified and convinced my young children would fail in life because they didn’t have a passion by age 5. I felt like a failure as a mother. The thing is though, we can’t force a passion on our kids. Their passion is their gift from God and it may take them a lifetime to find it and our only job as parents, I believe, is to expose them to a variety of things to let them be able to discover it themselves.

So don’t be discouraged or embarrassed by these public outbursts from your kids. I know it’s no fun carrying a preschooler rigid with dead weight kicking and screaming to the car. We all have been there and you too will survive. Just remember this too shall pass.

Connections

When we opened up 15 years ago, I wanted to open up a studio that was different than any other around,I wanted one that became a way of life for people. I am from a smaller town in Alabama and I have the fondest memories of being a part of a community theatre that made me feel like a family, that I was an important part of something. I vividly remember being at rehearsal and adult actors in the cast would be helping me with my algebra homework. I remember one of the seamstresses for the shows would bake me goodies and bring them to me at rehearsal. I remember going out to dinner with entire casts of adults and children and my parents never questioning my safety or who I was with. They were my extended family. I wanted to recreate that here at OBCT.

There are many studios and theatres where kids can come and take classes and do shows and they make lifelong friends and memories. But, I wanted something more. I wanted a place where we could do life with each other. So it has become not just about the kids, but the parents and siblings as well. I have watched our families support each other through bouts of cancer, divorces, births, weddings, you name it. These are the connections you know you can pick up the phone at 3am and call on and they wouldn’t think twice about coming to your side. It’s about being able to vent, shares hopes, dreams and disappointments. We come from all walks of life, different religions, beliefs and stages of life but we share an amazing bond. This is what I wanted my studio to be about.

Yes, we connect kids with their passion and help them discover the gifts that God gave them and that is so important but we also connect families and that is a good place to be.

Gardening and Theatre

This is my favorite time of year, Spring. I love the weather because it’s not too hot and not too cool. It’s just perfect. We have cleaned up the backyard so our kids can enjoy playing back there until the mosquitos come out. One of my favorite things to do every year is to plant things. I plant flowers in pots and I attempt every year to plant vegetables in a small garden we have in our back yard and although I could start my gardens from bulbs or baby plants, I always prefer to use seeds.

Tonight it occurred to me why I always use the seeds instead. I like not knowing when the seeds are going to sprout and how it leaves me hanging on the edge of my seat. I like not knowing if all the seeds will grow or if some will be duds. I like wondering if I have added enough water and if it has had enough sunlight. I like not having control over any of it and just having the faith God will make it flourish if it is meant to be.

Our theatre is like a garden to us too. All the kids that come to us are seeds. We do best with those. They all have a spark of a passion, even if some don’t realize it yet and a raw untouched talent. We nurture them, give them guidance and tend to them ever so carefully, then sit back and wait for wonderful things to happen. What we reap at harvest time, is so much sweeter than any thing we could grow in our real garden though. Not only have we helped kids tap into their God given talent but we have watched them become extraordinary human beings full of compassion, humility and loving hearts.

We have been reminded of this recently. As we look back at the early years of some local graduating seniors and where they began, to what they have become makes us beam with pride and joy. We are so happy to know we had a small part in helping these kids turn into the amazing young adults they have become and what a wonderful harvest it is. So we will continue to nurture our crops and tend to them ever so carefully because that is what we are meant to do.

Not Broken, Beautiful

Yesterday, as I was trapped at home with a sick child, I came across two blog posts that really home for me. One was a beautiful piece about don’t judge someone because you have no idea what might be going on in their lives to make things appear as they do. The other was about a letter a mom wrote to her son about learning how to be compassionate. This particular one went onto explain how the woman told her son that each person he would meet are a gift from God and have been put in our lives for a reason and it got me to thinking. The mother told her child to treat each one he met as that gift from God.

Sometimes, not all the time,we come across kids who just don’t fit in. They might sit alone at the lunch table or they might not play with anyone at recess. They appear to their peers to be awkward, weird or broken. Now we don’t know if they have some medical condition, have lost a loved one, don’t get along with their parents or are simply longing for someone to pay attention to them, but on the outside they appear broken. We just don’t know their story, but there is a place for them in theatre. I know that without a doubt. Like that mother told her son, if that makes your heart hurt, that’s a good thing because that hurt is compassion. Theatre is a way to turn that broken kid into something beautiful. By offering a child to be in an environment with supportive friends, that don’t judge is the first step for many of these kids. Being able to open up and share their story whether it be through song, dance, acting or by confiding in a new found group of friends, it teaches the whole group a valuable lesson. It teaches these kids the value of compassion. I can’t think of a more beautiful gift to learn at any age.

That compassion we feel may compel us to befriend the underdog, stand up for them if they are being teased or just provide a listening ear to that someone.We all have a story to tell. That story will make us a stronger actor with depth and it also can be used to help someone else. Theatre isn’t about competing, or having a winner or a loser. It provides a unique environment in which kids can feel safe and supported to have their story be heard. I think that’s pretty cool. Each one of the kids that enter through our doors, have their own story to tell and we can’t wait to listen. To us, these kids are gifts to one another and us and we think they are not broken, but beautiful.