Young people’s opinions and feelings matter and they deserve to be listened to really listened to. I caught myself in a moment of frustration with my son the other day trying to explain to him he was living under a dictatorship with mom and dad and he had to wait until he turned 18 to be heard. Oops, wrong thing to teach a nine year old. So I stopped myself and had to rewind the moment. As a parent do you ever have to do that? Working with so many kids as we do at OBCT, we have lots of kids that NEED to tell us something about their day or even sometimes things mom and dad probably wish they didn’t share with Mr. Chris or Ms. Shannon. It would be very easy for us to just brush them aside and get the class back to the tasks we have at hand. But more that any song that needs to be learned or choreography that needs to be taught, these kids need something more. They need to be heard and know they matter, and in that 20 seconds they are sharing with me that they are my number 1 focus at that time. I want these kids to know they are important and what they say truly does matter to me.
These kids may go on to do other shows, or it may be a one shot deal, but what we want them to remember while they are under our care, is that we do care and they are important. I think it today’s fast paced world, kids are just pushed through school, in extra curricular activities the only ones that get any attention are the ones that excel or whose parents pay the most, and it is so sad. We are raising a generation of kids who just want someone to sit down with them so they can tell you about something funny they heard, or something that is hurting them or how they got in trouble with mom.
Theatre is a unique place to let kids be heard. As directors, we ask kids to bring up all sorts of feelings and memories to help them become more believable actors and they are given a safe place to feel those moments. And, just as there may be 40 kids in a show, each one is important and each one has feelings and thoughts that deserve to be felt and heard. I am glad I am in the business of listening, listening to children. In today’s world, I get so tired of hearing myself talk, it’s nice to hear our future and what they have to say.
Play along with me here for a moment. Imagine you are a child who has just moved to a new city in the middle of the school year. You get enrolled in a new school and have to start midstream in the year after everyone already has established friendships and daily routines. The teacher tries her best to help you fit in, but you still feel like the outsider and alone. There are not many kids in your new neighborhood and the few that there are don’t even seem to notice there is a new kid on the street. Dad is busy having to get adjusted to his new job, and mom is just trying to keep her head above water getting everything settled in the new home and getting your siblings situated.
School is difficult for you, because even though you are entering the same grade as before, they do school totally different in the new place and your finding it hard to keep up. You feel alone and afraid.You are probably the most miserable you have ever been and are so angry that your family made you move from a place where you knew everything and all was right with the world.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. You find out there is a afterschool program that is doing a show at your school and one of the teachers at your new school suggests it might be a good way to get involved. With a little hesitation you agree to it, but you are scared, you have never been in a show before. You know nothing about theatre and are scared of joining something somewhere where you know no one but you agree to give it a shot. You walk into a room with lots of kids laughing and buddying up with each other and you think this might be a mistake. It’s time to begin.
After some very silly warmup exercises, you are paired up with a partner to play some games. Then you switch partners and you begin to see that these kids are nice and welcoming. The director groups everyone together and you are included. You become one of the kids. You seem to have picked up something being taught very well and the director asks you to help a couple of the kids and suddenly kids are coming to you with questions. Over the next couple of days, you start to recognize the familiar faces from that day in the halls at school and the kids speak to you and smile. All of a sudden you know people and they can’t wait to see you at the next meeting. You are beginning to fit in. You are finding a place at that scary, new school. After weeks of rehearsals it’s showtime and kids at school remember you from the show and tell you that you did a good job.
You have found a niche, a place to fit in. Theatre has that ability to put unlikely souls together to work towards a common goal and often times, build lifelong friendships. It strips away all the outside stuff and puts everyone on common ground to share it making memories. It gives people purpose and something to aspire to and although it can’t solve all the worlds problems, it helps bring people together which is a step in the right direction.
I’m a mom. A mom with two kids. A mom with two kids who don’t really have afterschool activities and I wish they did. Well, at least the guilty mom part of me thinks that. How about you? You got kids you just can’t seem to plug in anywhere? Do they drift from activity to activity without finding one that sticks? I’ve been there and I know how frustrating it can be. You put them in sports because, well, all the neighbor kids do it….but they hate it. You try gymnastics because it sounds like fun…but they hate it. Scouts, done it. Dance, Art…..bet you’ve tried it all. No luck?
What about theatre? Does that sound fun, but daunting at the same time? What if it’s real competitive and my child has no experience? What then? Well, your child has to start some where and get their foot in the door. Let them dabble, let them try. You know theatre has a wonderful way of helping kids break out of their shell. Theatre has a way of forcing kids together to work as a team towards a common goal. Theatre allows kids to step outside of themselves and become someone else. Theatre is where they can let their imagination run wild and it’s ok if your kids a bit quirky. It’s ok if your child doesn’t fit the mold of every child in their class. Theatre lets your child be unique.
With this new year, let your child try something new. Your child doesn’t have to become a Broadway star or the next Disney sensation to benefit from the life skills theatre has to offer. It’s not hard, all they have to do is be willing to try.