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.