February 2, 2004

Reformed Hypocrite Learns Lessons from Youth Theater

Filed under: Art and About Theater — admin @ 10:41 pm

Winter. A time for nature to prepare for its Big Spring Opening. But Mother Nature is not in production on the only show in town.

Countless children and teenagers are busily rehearsing for their own blooming season when schools and young theater troupes pack our local stages with plays and musicals galore. Plus there are the myriad band concerts and competitions in the spring. And don’t forget the spring recitals for everyone studying music privately.

Of course, young showmanship is on stage all year round, but the period between March and June is particularly packed. If you don’t have kids in the school system anymore, you may not realize that the traditional high school musical is now joined on the calendar by the middle school and elementary school spring musicals. And there are so many wonderful extracurricular children’s theater programs in our area that it isn’t fair to list them since I’m sure some will be forgotten.

Every production with young people wants the same thing: an audience. And they want an audience consisting of more than parents, grandparents and truly loyal family friends. Some shows and concerts are lucky enough to get newspaper coverage. Many are listed in the arts calendar. But the truth is, it is hard to convince people who don’t have children in the production that it is worth their time and money to come fill a seat. Even those noble souls who want to support young creative endeavors have trouble bringing themselves to spend two hours watching something that may be quite good, but also could easily be, well, um, shall we say, an effective reminder of how the process is ultimately more important than the product.

I know of what I speak because I will extol the virtues of supporting our young people in performing arts, but I have trouble going and physically being there when the curtain goes up. My kids aren’t old enough to be participating yet, so that isn’t a draw for me. I admit, I’ve seen enough bad theater and heard enough bad music done by even professional adults that I tend not to want to put myself in a situation that could easily tip toward the horrific.

I’m lucky because I get to write a lot of those newspaper articles that preview the youth pursuits and supposedly spur readers to buy tickets. I can almost let myself off the hook thinking I’ve done my part for the next generation, but that’s a lie. I struggle with the hypocrisy because, apparently, there’s not enough consternation in the rest of my life.

It was Tyrian, my enlightened three-year-old, who helped me find my way in the darkness. We recently took him to a play that we thought he might enjoy. Coincidentally, the play had a cast full of children. Tyrian watched the play blank-faced, and after the curtain call, he asked if we could go home.

Later that night, we performed one of our bedtime rituals with him, which is writing a list of things in his Blessings Journal for which he is thankful. The first item on his list that night was, “The children made me happy in the show.”

Countless people have told me about the impact young people on stage have on young people in the audience. It’s been easy for me to give lip service to that, but I had never experienced it. It was pretty powerful to hear Tyrian say those words.

So now I know who needs to be filling all those audience seats – children. And kids, get at least one adult to go with you. Often, people who won’t do something for their own good will do it for the good of their children.

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