My daughters love being a part of theatrical productions. But like everything we do, we need good reasons to add things to our busy schedule. Or rather, we need to know the why of drama class. It needs a purpose beyond entertainment. Socialization is a good reason, but not nearly good enough. And theater does not disappoint. It turns out that there are lots of good reasons to join a theater class or group.
My girls are learning a number of important skills through their years in drama. The most important skill, in my estimation, that they have learned through the laboratory of performing arts, is the ability to speak publicly. Articulate public address is a pleasure and every capable child should be trained in the art.
As a matter of fact, being able to sing and dance on stage adds another level to the ability to communicate without self-consciousness. Singing and dancing encourages brain development, coordination, and is a good physical exercise, if you are giving it your all. Ensemble performance is a good team building exercise as well.
The American Alliance of Theater and Education (AATE) reports that The College Board analyzed the SAT student questionnaire from 2001 to 2005, and found that students reporting that they were involved in drama performance scored, on average, 65.5 points higher on the verbal section and 35.5 points higher on the math component of the SAT. While that is not the latest, greatest research, it reinforces the idea that theater involvement can make one a better student, inviting further research.
The article from AATE also cites research demonstrating that theater students have better reading comprehension skills. How can you not be a better reader if you are tackling great works of art, especially Shakespeare?
The other thing that drama helps develop is a thicker skin. It is great practice for the big world after graduation to put yourself out there in an audition, get rejected, and pick yourself back up to try again next time. But be warned, as the mother of a theater student, you see the hard work they put into an audition and the rejection breaks your heart, too. The temptation is to step in and lash out at the poor drama teacher who can only pick one lead and is always going to make some hard working kid (and his or her mom) unhappy. But I would not do that to my daughter’s future employer, so I will prepare my daughter for real life and not do that to her teacher.
Drama mamas must lead by example and offer to help out in the most humble places of the theater. My girls have learned to assist with costumes and props (sewing lessons help with that), choreography, organization, and clean-up. Parents, please do not tell your child that they are they best ever and belittle other children. Teach them them humility. The world is too full of divas already.
Theater programs can come with hefty price tags. Make sure they are providing direction in acting, stage craft, music, and even dance. You don’t want a program that is just a glorified babysitting service that gives your kids a chance to look cute in a costume on stage. The time and money is not worth it. Your kids should enjoy it as much as you enjoy watching them. Don’t force them to perform if they hate it.
Make sure they are doing a variety of plays. Somewhere in theater education a student should wrestle with classic works, not just modern musicals. As Amanda Murray “Your Shakespeare Lady” is fond of saying, Shakespeare is meant to be acted and heard, not read. (She has a great curriculum for introducing your kids to the Bard) Acting Shakespeare brings an appreciation and understanding that just reading the Bard will not bring.
Not all theater programs are created equal. Make sure you understand the objectives of the program you are considering, how the audition process works, whether the majority of kids have professional coaching to prepare them for auditions, and what show week looks like. Be prepared for the week or two leading up to the show to consume all of your child’s time, and perhaps yours, too.
Theater programs are not particularly beneficial to children before they can read proficiently. Upper elementary is the earliest I would recommend. Concentrate on music before then. Music will benefit them more. Start by acting out bits of books and plays with your children, in your own family room. Let them film themselves. Allow them to create a stage in the living room and entertain their grandparents. You never know what family night theater can develop into!
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