Child’s Play

My nephew, Nick, is getting married this week.  Not long ago, he gave me something very precious.  He didn’t even realize it.  It was something he said – quite casually – just a throwaway sentence.  “I credit you with my love of theatre”, he told me.  Wow.

It isn’t even completely warranted.  His parents like the theatre too and took him sometimes when he was a kid; his grandfather enjoys certain specific kinds of musicals (the kind with dancing and with songs “you can sing along to – you know, like 42nd Street”); he has another aunt, an uncle and several cousins who have been actors and on and off theatre geeks.  But it’s true, Nick and I have shared a lot of theatre over the years and he does seem to love it.  When he was a seriously impoverished student he would still sometimes go for last minute rush tickets over groceries.



I took him to his first (Guys and Dolls, age 10) and I’ve introduced him to the best:  After we saw, and loved, Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n Roll in 2008 and I told him Arcadia was even better, he read it several times.  Nick finally saw Arcadia this year at ACT and was disappointed only in the fact that the turtle was too small – not the huge tortoise he had envisioned (which would be much better, I agree).

In “A Place They’d Never Seen: The Theatre” (Shiksa Goddess: Or How I Spent My Forties) the late and deeply missed playwright Wendy Wasserstein wrote about how she “hatched an idea to personally bring New York high school students into the theatre.” In 1998, she and her friend, stage manager Roy Harris, took eight high school students (selected from essay applications by the Theatre Development Fund Arts Education Program) to six Broadway shows over the school year and had post-performance discussions over pizza.  After that first pilot program year, this grew into a more formal (and still enduring) mentoring program with TDC called Open Doors which received a special 2012 Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre.  I’d love to see more of this kind of program spring up in different communities.  It could be informal.  Maybe you could do it.

I love going to the theatre with kids.  They bring an entirely new perspective, and sometimes the most cool and urbane among them get caught up in the magic and get in touch with (and, if you’re lucky, share with you) a different part of themselves.  A little prep time in advance with the cast album or a synopsis can be helpful, but just letting the professionals do their jobs and have the story wash over you works too.  And while some thought should always be put into what shows are appropriate for what ages, don’t assume that kids will only enjoy children’s theatre. From about age 10 or so, if it’s a good story well told, I’ve found that most kids get it.  You’ll be surprised to hear what they noticed and what they want to ask about after the play is over.  It’s always fun; often enlightening.

The International Association of Theatres for Young Audiences is in the middle of a three-year campaign with the theme of “Take A Child to the Theatre Today”.  I don’t think it can be better said than Lauren Gunderson did in an inspiring article on this topic she wrote last year for the Huffington Post:

 If you take a child to the theater, not only will they practice empathy, they might also laugh uproariously, or come home singing about science, or want to know more about history, or tell you what happened at school today, or spend all dinner discussing music, or learn how to handle conflict, or start becoming future patrons of the arts. . . .[T]ake a child to the theater. Take them all the time. And don’t “sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.” Lean forward, engage and start changing the world for the better.

My best friend’s daughter Kate has gone to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland at least once a year ever since she was born in 1988.  She distinctly remembers finally being allowed to join us for a play instead of being left  at the hotel with a sitter.  A year later, she was totally delighted by The Taming of the Shrew – sharing a name with the lead character got her started reading and loving Shakespeare at age 11 and she’s never stopped.  I am proud to say I took her to her first (and still favorite) musical (A Chorus Line) at age 13.  She’s in medical school now.  So was Shakespeare the chicken or the egg?

Nick and Kate will love going to the theatre for the rest of their lives.  They will take their children to the theatre and, hopefully, so it continues.

Here’s my soapbox message:  Help enrich the lives of young people you know.  Give them the gift of theatre and you will find, as is so often the case with giving, that you get back so much more than you ever expected.  (And hey, if you take a kid to an early show, you’ll be helping to lower the demographic of the average matinee by about 50 years!)

Thanks Nick.

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  1. Bruce Chandler
    Jul 23, 2013

    What a great post. I’ve taken several of my classes to plays in Ashland and in Redding. Kids actually do love theater – especially the “event” of it. I remember taking one class to see “Dr. Jekyll”. On the way home I had the joy of eavesdropping on a heated debate over whether Hyde was truly evil, or the victim of the doctor’s drug use. The deeper thinking I failed to engender by reading them the story only happened when they saw the play.

  2. Ruth Schoenbach
    Jul 25, 2013

    Hi Sue,
    Really lovely post. Thanks,

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