Monday, August 19, 2013

Why the Theatre? The Benefits of Participating For Children and Youth

It is well accepted that theater activities are fun for young people, and that many children and teens absolutely love participating in plays and theater workshops. They get to spend time with their old friends, make new friends and work on a project that culminates in their performing onstage and enjoying the applause. What's not to love?

But what are the actual cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits for our young people who participate in theater arts activities? In what ways does their participation help them to grow into more responsible and responsive adults?

The opportunities for cognitive growth in theater are many. Just the amount of reading necessary for rehearsing a play makes a good case for that statement! But it doesn't stop there. Students must memorize their lines. To do this they must first organize their time in order to meet the deadlines for line memorization and then must keep practicing over and over to make the words their own. This involves repetitive and diligent work, and sometimes it is the only such work a child is willing to do. Studying spelling lessons is one thing, but memorizing your lines for a play, while admittedly the most boring and tedious part of the job, is an unavoidable task. The most resistant times tables learner will have to work on those lines, and he will be strengthening his memorization skills while he prepares to shine onstage.

The imagination too gets a great workout during play rehearsals as the young actor is encouraged to try new and interesting ways of interpreting his role. As he interprets his lines and develops his character, he will be developing his problem solving skills. His director will ask him "Why does the character do that?" "What is it that the characters want?" and "How do you think the character came up with that answer?" "How might you say that to give us a different impression of what the character means?" These questions and more will be running through your child's mind as he rehearses, prompting him to use his powers of metacognition as he tries to unlock the mysteries behind the motives of the character he is playing.

Concentration skills also get a workout as your child actor has to learn to do several things at once onstage. He will have to have his lines flawlessly in his head while remembering where and why he supposed to be moving across the boards. He will also have to be on his toes because this is live theater being played by live human beings, and human beings make mistakes! Someone could drop a line. It could be your child himself. The power of quick thinking made available to him through his sharpened focus will help him smooth over any onstage glitches he or his fellow actors may experience and cover them flawlessly.

His communication skills will grow as he finds himself poised to talk with other actors onstage and discovers that he must turn and look at that other person in order for the line to ring true. And listening is often touted as the most important skill an actor can have. He must listen to the director, to the other actors and the central action onstage. Listening even comes into play when the actor is offstage as he must listen for his cue to go back on! As his listening improves his skills of observation are being honed. And when he says his lines onstage, your child will be encouraged to project his voice in a clear manner and to enunciate well so that what he is saying can be better understood by the audience, thereby increasing his verbal articulation skills.

Emotional development is also enhanced as your child has no choice but to learn to cooperate with his cast mates and the production staff. Unless your 7 year old is doing a one man show, he is going to need the other people in the play to be on his side, and to be good team member for them as well. The old saying, "there is no "I" in team," refers to theater production teams too. The catharsis provided by theatre games and improvisations as well as rehearsal and performance by their very nature allow students to express a wide rang of strong feelings. They provide a safe outlet for the relief of aggression and tension in a controlled environment.

Your child will develop a heightened sense of empathy as he learns about and portrays a wide variety of characters from different cultures and times in history. He will also become more in tuned to the feelings of his fellow actors as he carefully monitors and supports them through their performances, providing kind encouragement to frustrated peers as well as accolades for a job well done. And as the recipient of this kind of reassurance himself, your child will learn about trust. He will learn to trust his fellow actors, and he will learn to trust himself and his responses.

Physically your child will benefit because he will learn to rely on the sense of his body in the performance space and carefully to monitor the movement required of him during his theater work. He will learn warm-up exercises that help him stretch and release physical tension and improvisation exercises that will improve his physical coordination as he learns how his character moves through the world being created. There is much physical acuity necessary for the creation of a role, from the timing of comic bits to the staged combat that must be choreographed down to the very tiniest movement, and it all contributes to the physical confidence that your child will gain through being involved in a show.

The social rewards your child will gain through his participation in theater activities will be rich and numerous. The long lasting friendships so commonly sparked in a cast that works well together are a fabulous bonus to the young actor, but they are only a portion of the opportunities for development available during the creation of a performance piece. Whether your child has been diagnosed with a learning difference that makes social encounters particularly challenging for them or not, all young people can profit from the myriad of opportunities for social growth available to them in the theater.

An actor has to learn to mimic real life and real conversations in order to represent human truths on the stage. If holding eye contact is an issue for your child, he will be coached in this. If your child has trouble understanding the give and take of the rhythm of conversation, the dialogue in a script provides a template from which he can learn this skill. Physical movements must be matched to the text onstage, providing coaching for your child in the nuances of human body language.

Finally, your child will find himself immersed in an art form that is ancient, knows no cultural boundaries and will bring joy to himself and those around him. He will learn to bring humor and pathos into the lives of others, find joy in his work, and ultimately discover that we are all one community on this planet as he discovers the similarities in tales told from the beginning of time and from everywhere around the world.

From the tiniest part in the chorus to the biggest song and dance man in the show, he will learn that not one role can be overlooked as important, and that he must have respect for everyone involved from backstage to center stage. For your child these experiences will ultimately result in his growth into an adult who more clearly understands the value of collaborative work, the delight inherent in creating art, and the value of that precious, human treasure: the ability to communicate by telling stories.

Image source: Enjoying Life with Kids in New Hampshire

Article Source: Susan Scaccia


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