Thursday, October 6, 2011

Does Your Kid Light Up The Room?



by Topher Clark (bio)
by brettmerritt (bio)
by Seattle Jon (bio)

Below are thoughts from three modern mormon men on acting and how it relates to kids.


Topher Clark
As a theatre professor, I can't tell you how many times I have parents and grandparents tell me that their child/grandchild is "so full of energy" or that he/she "really lights up the room" or that this child "is quite a character!" and this somehow equals the idea that this child is, or will be, a good actor. more after the jump

brettmerritt
I got started "late" in acting. I was 27 when I did my first play. I had no idea I would love it and that I would still be doing it at 40. I was very shy as a child and someone who thought getting up to say or do anything in front of anyone that wasn't a blood relative was akin to being drawn and quartered. more after the jump

Seattle Jon
My oldest daughter was one of those kids who refused to speak in the primary program or be recognized at her school graduations. She was terrified of other people looking at "just her." When piano lessons stopped working at age seven, we found a wonderful choir for her to participate in (if you live in the Seattle area, check them out here). She must have reasoned that choir allowed her to blend in and people came to hear the music, not to watch her sing. Soon after, she got involved with musical theater at the homeschool resource center she attends and our daughter fell in love with theater. more after the jump

Topher Clark
As a theatre professor, I can't tell you how many times I have parents and grandparents tell me that their child/grandchild is "so full of energy" or that he/she "really lights up the room" or that this child "is quite a character!" and this somehow equals the idea that this child is, or will be, a good actor. Let me tell you, it probably doesn't. What those qualities often mean, quite frankly, is that your child is "annoying." Most of the student actors I work with were not that demonstrative as a child. Many of them were actually shy, and theatre gave them an opportunity to come out of their shell a little bit. Lots of them are still pretty shy. Anyway, the best ones I work with don't need that much attention and see acting as a craft, and not a chance to get validation and love. No matter what Glee has told you.

That being said, I think enrolling children in theatre camps, acting programs, and performance programs, as well as letting them audition for school and community plays, is a terrific idea. I don't have great confidence in these programs actually helping your child get better as an actor; there may be some technical improvement, but most of the good actors I've worked with have an inherent talent already. But I love the idea that these children are getting an opportunity to collaborate. They are learning teamwork, just as they would with sports. They are learning to socialize a little, and learning that socializing can also be creative and productive. That's fantastic. Every child needs that. They'll probably get a boost of confidence, which many of them need. Parents who enroll their children in these programs to create little "stars" may be in for some disappointment. Because starting a career is not the point. It's learning to be a part of something bigger, something more dynamic, and something creative, and getting to play an integral part in that.

brettmerritt
I got started "late" in acting. I was 27 when I did my first play. I had no idea I would love it and that I would still be doing it at 40. I was very shy as a child and someone who thought getting up to say or do anything in front of anyone that wasn't a blood relative was akin to being drawn and quartered. So, it's difficult to speak on this topic from personal experience. However, I will say that I wish I had found out I loved organized theater much earlier than I did. I wish, as a child, that my parents had not only put me in soccer but had found a way to channel my artistic side. Of course, in the 70s in Littleton, Co, I imagine there were a lot less opportunities to do so.

Is putting children into the performing arts, more specifically, theater a good thing? If it's for them, yes. If it's for you to fulfill your dreams for yourself or them, no. I would say that kids just need something to be involved in, something to help them be a part of a team, something that let's them build social skills outside of the classroom and playground. I think it's our job as parents to help our kids discover and facilitate a way for them to develop their talents. Now, if your kids don't like sports or dance, which seems to be the most common way parents involve their kids in extracurricular activities, then I would highly recommend theater.

A few words of advice, from what I've observed from being around it for thirteen years:

- Do your best to learn theater etiquette.
- Theater is hard work and not just playing dress ups.
- Don't get more emotionally invested in it than your kids are.
- Don't tell the director or teacher how to direct or teach.
- Roll with it if your kid doesn't get a big part. If they are talented and stick with acting, the big roles will come.
- Be positive and supportive of your sons who want to get involved with acting and theater. Sports aren't the only way to build character.
- Be willing to try a lot of different things until you find something they really love.

Finally, whether they decide to do theater or not, please take your family to live theater. Give it a chance. If you have (or had) a bad experience or watched a crappy show once, don't let that sour you. (I still watch the Denver Broncos every week.) Do some research and find a good show in your area to see. Our family regularly goes to plays and my daughter has been sitting through them, riveted, since she was four years old. There really is nothing like live theater if it's done well and, even if you aren't raising the next Meryl Streep, the experience can be something your family will remember for a long time.

Seattle Jon
My oldest daughter was one of those kids who refused to speak in the primary program or be recognized at her school graduations. She was terrified of other people looking at "just her." When piano lessons stopped working at age seven, we found a wonderful choir for her to participate in (if you live in the Seattle area, check them out here). She must have reasoned that choir allowed her to blend in and people came to hear the music, not to watch her sing. Soon after, she got involved with musical theater at the homeschool resource center she attends and our daughter fell in love with theater.

At first, she would only participate as part of the ensemble. Then came bit parts, with one or two lines. After that, she tried out for bigger parts, but never got them. Based on the director's feedback, we told her she needed to put in more work before casting to show she really wanted a certain part. And then recently, after putting in a ton of work, she was cast as one of the lead females in the Adventures of A Comic Book Artist musical.

Topher and Brett have already touched on what I think these experiences have brought to our daughter. The camaraderie I see during and after each production is unmatched by any other activity our kids participate in.  I love hanging around after the final show to watch the cast sit in a circle and share their personal highlights from the production. There is no criticism for missed cues or bungled lines. Just joy and a sense of accomplishment. Boosts to confidence and creativity have also been evident in our daughter. Finally, our daughter's plays give us the opportunity to regularly attend shows together as family. And Brett is right, the experiences will be something our family remembers for a long time.

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