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.

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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.

Counting Lines

An unfortunate thing happens when kids, especially tweens, get cast in a show. As soon as they get their script, they will count the number of lines they have in the show. Then what happens next is very predictable, they complain to their parents and parent in turn calls director or staff member to complain and wonder if it is worth the child participating if they have limited or no lines. We call this in the business, the line counting syndrome and it is a problem for the kid and the parent.

First the kid probably doesn’t know any better than to count their lines. They are just excited to be in a show, and want to be an important part of that show. They can’t help but compare themselves to the other cast members and base some self esteem on how important they think their role is. What I am going to tell you next is the most valuable thing about being involved in theatre. When doing a show, everyone plays an equal part in putting that story together for the stage. Everyone from the lead actor down to the mom in the backstage keeping the kids quiet and getting them dressed. No one person is more important than the other because they each have an important part to play and if they weren’t there, they would leave a huge hole in the putting that story together. Being in a show teaches kids how to work together as a team towards a unified goal, and a team needs every person to make it the most powerful. They need to know they are going to have a great time no matter what they do, make great friends and memories that will last a lifetime. When they realize they were part of the team that made that show come to fruition, that is an amazing feeling.

If you are a parent and you play into your child’s comparison, you are doing your child a great disservice. You might say you are standing up for your child and being an advocate, because if you don’t, who will? Here is where you can teach your child about humility. Everything isn’t always just about them. It’s about the group as a whole trying to accomplish something for the greater good. Also, by you calling to complain to the director two things are occurring. One, you are teaching your child that whenever life doesn’t seem fair, all they have to do is complain and you will be there to solve their problems for them and they get what they want. Secondly, then the director looks at you as a problem parent and that child might not be cast again in a different show, because they have “that” parent. That’s a shame for the kid. How are you teaching the child the value of teamwork and commitment and to not be selfish?

Then I begin to think, how can this lesson in comparing oneself be translated into grown up life? A lightbulb went off when I realized this happens all the time in corporate America. Take for example a top executive in a company. If they are so concerned with climbing the corporate ladder and only looking out for number one, they may rise to the top for a little while but they are not being an effective leader and sooner or later it is all going to come crumbling down. An effective leader is one, who leads by example and gets in there to get their hands dirty. They are a team player with their coworkers and they should do everything in their power to help their team succeed.

Another example is a mail clerk with that attitude. If they compare themselves to those higher up in the company and think their job isn’t important and they are not a team player, mail doesn’t get delivered which means bills aren’t getting paid and the company will be an epic failure. A mom is another example of how the line counting syndrome can be bad. If a mom is not a team player of the family and is always doing her thing, the gym, girls night out, lunch dates and so on and you shove your kid off on a nanny, you are not being a good mom and your children will be the ones who suffer.

Counting lines is so much more than a child just wanting to be treated fairly. It’s about teaching your kid not to be selfish and to think of others first and to be there for the team as a whole.

We Won….Now What?

Our kids just won a Superior Rating for their Festival in Disney this past weekend. But, what does that really mean. Is it more than the hardware they brought home? I think so. Is it about the respect and admiration they gained from the other groups attending who watched them? Maybe, partly. What does, winning, doing the best they can at this competition/festival really mean for them?

I would like to think it is more than all of the stuff that goes along with being a trophy winner. I would like to think it is how each one of these kids grew as an individual on their journey. It’s about the perseverance and the integrity they have learned along the way. It’s about them learning compassion for themselves and others that made them winners in my eyes. I could care less if they were the top ranked children’s theatre in the nation or counted the number of medals they won. None of that matters to me. It’s seeing the oldest child in our troupe, take the time to stop and encourage one of the younger ones even when he may have been slightly annoyed by them. It’s about our group taking the time to stop, clap and compliment another group that went after it because it was the right thing to do. It’s about half of our cast being sick the week before we went, and the rest pulling together and picking up the slack for the ones who couldn’t be there. It’s about the love they show to each other even though they probably seemed like the most unlikely to be friends in the beginning.

These kids chose to travel together, eat together, laugh together and cry together. Learning to pick the other up when they fall, helping the under dog. That’s what our Trope is about and that is what makes them winners to me. So, while winning a trophy is nice and all, it means more to me to watch these kids mature into young adults who have class and that’s is all the trophy I need,

Winning-What Makes a Winner?

As we prepare to take our theatre troupe of 25 extraordinary kids down to Disney to compete in a Theatre Festival, that got me to wondering, how do I define if a kid is a winner or not? One might logically say, well if they get a trophy, then they are a winner. But all a trophy really is, is just some plastic, wood and screws. I don’t think that defines a winner to me. You might say, the ones who score highest in whatever their competing at would be the winner and technically, yes you are right, but I believe being a winner is much more than a score. Also, way more important.

I know, I know, it’s cliché to say everyone is a winner in our eyes so I am not going to say it. I think a winner is someone who learned the valuable lesson to be learned in their competition journey.It’s not about beating someone out, or being better than someone else. I believe you are a winner if you became a changed person on your journey. Looking around our rehearsal the other day, filled with kids with last remainders of flu and fever. Garbed in surgical masks, and armed with hand sanitizer, these children looked as though have been through a battle. But you know, they got themselves out of bed and made it through 4 hours of rehearsals not because someone made them, but because they felt obligated to their fellow cast members.

When one of our older kids has been frustrated with one of our youngest members all year with their lack of focus and experience, stops and realizes to accept them for what they are and praise them for what they do right instead of pointing out their faults. A youngster who only cared about their role at the beginning of this journey, realizes its not about the individual, it’s about the group as a whole.

These kids have learned the value of self discipline, perseverance, accepting everyone with faults and all, how to take criticism and learn from it and the value of friendship. This is what defines a winner in my eyes, So yes, these kids have already won in my eyes. Any trophy the receive is just icing on the cake. We have watched these kids overcome, their own personal road blocks and forge ahead with a passion for life. These kids have learned about compassion for others and acceptance of them, warts and all. Each of these kids have navigated their own personal journey, and have made it through to the other side stronger than they were at the beginning. They have won the competition.

The Value of Feeling Accepted

Once again we are dealing with the weekly crisis of my daughter saying no one will play with her at recess. Now I tell you  this, not because I want pity for my daughter, although I do feel her pain, but because it brings me to the idea of what is the correlation between tween’s, preteen’s struggles and theatre? I’ve said it before, kids have it rough growing up, and you couldn’t pay me to go back and live it over again. I see so  many kids, even just through my program, who are having a hard time in life. They are bullied at school, they have learning disabilities, they are misunderstood by their parents, they are anxious kids who are just kind of drifting aimlessly through life without anything to latch onto. That is truly sad, and breaks my heart.

Often times, these kids probably don’t excel in athletics and some may not do great academically. Some don’t  do good, even if they have found the arts, in very competitive arts programs that are cut throat factories. There is a large population of kids that just need to be nurtured, to be listened to, to have a friend who understands them. I think we as grownups in the community, need to offer kids a place where they feel like they are accepted just as they are, taught that they are special and unique, given life skills  and confidence they can draw upon everyday and feel safe.

Unlike sports or some other extracurricular activities, I think the arts lends itself most to filling this void. The neat thing about theatre, is that anyone, any age, any body type with or without disabilities can find a place to fit in. Are they all going to be Broadway actors? No, but can they make memories, build friendships, find their passion, find their purpose on this Earth? Maybe, it is a start in the right direction.

So, as I tell my daughter with the recess situation, it’s ok you haven’t found your niche yet because there is someone out there who needs a friend just like you in a group who will make you feel valued and accepted for who you are.

Roadmap

What if someone told your kids they could follow their own road map in life? What if they were told it is okay not to be like everyone else? I think if I were a kid again and someone told me that, it would be like a huge weight was lifted off of me. Whether they even realize it or not, I believe our kids are pressured to fit into these cookie cutter molds either by wanting to fit in with peers or by well meaning parents. wouldn’t it be neat for a kid to feel okay with being unique and celebrating the fact that God made them special for a reason?

I believe theatre can help a child celebrate that uniqueness. If given the right environment, I believe theatre can help a child feel safe in being whoever they want to be. I didn’t exactly fit into any one group growing up and often felt out of place. It was in theatre I met the friends who celebrated the uniqueness of who I was and helped me see God gave me a gift to share with the world. That’s what I think we truly all want for today’s kids. I honestly believe if kids were allowed to be who they are designed to be, there would be a lot less angry, depressed and lost kids out there.

If they could find a group of peers who supported them and loved them for who they are. For what mainstream America saw as flaws in these kids, this group would see as facets that made their special personality. From there, their confidence could soar and they could take the world by storm. Let’s show today’s youth they don’t have to be the jock, the scholar, the cheerleader, the nerd. Let’s show them that they get to choose the path they want to take in life and they won’t be disappointing anyone by their choice.