The holidays are a great time to introduce your kids to live theatre.
Lights! Action! In two words the magic of theatre unfolds. No camera, no big screen. In real time, with real people, another world opens up, no pausing, no rewinding, only the immediate sharing of story, music, drama – all with your child in the next seat! If you haven’t considered attending live theatre with your kids, now is the perfect time to merge the magic of the season with the magic of theatre. The theatres are full of a wide range of holiday productions and the benefits to your children, family, and the community are enormous.
Huge benefits for kids
Seeing a live theatrical performance provides kids with a unique opportunity for both personal and educational growth. Personal benefits include heightened emotional awareness, self-confidence and self-esteem. Educational benefits include increased literacy, improved language skills, and greater ability to concentrate.
In 2006, a South Australian study documented the impact of live theatre on primary school children over three years and found that: children learned to think critically about what they saw and better articulate their thoughts and feelings; students felt confident to reproduce art; and live theatre encouraged [a] reflection of social values.
The study supports what local performing art schools, theatre production companies, and artistic societies already know. Linda Kash from the Peterborough Academy of Performing Arts says that, “attending the theatre helps children hone active listening, a skill the technological wizardry of our age has negatively impacted. It reinforces the notion of real time and space, what you see and hear the performers also see and hear – what you do in your seat impacts people in surrounding seats and on stage.”
Carol Forrest and Trudy Moffat of Risa Productions in Whitby believe so strongly in the advantages of live theatre for kids they have developed a theatrical experience for primary and middle students in conjunction with the Ontario arts curriculum. “Each production has a relevant educational package complete with lesson plans based upon the performance, which can be executed within or easily adapted to the course structure,” explains Forrest.
From viewing the show and participating in the question and answer sessions, children learn how theatre works and how to respond appropriately to the production. They identify with the emotional experience of the actors and discuss with peers what they have seen. Moreover, clapping at the correct places, not speaking unless encouraged to, and remaining seated, all translate into courtesy and respect – skills readily transferable to everyday life.
Taking the worry out
The fear of disrupting a performance often causes parents to limit their children’s exposure to theatre, but children can only learn what is acceptable by attending. Florence Fletcher of the Cobourg Victorian Operetta Society says, “Children should be prepped in advance as to what to expect. Audience members should arrive on time, there should be no talking, but laughing or clapping during the performance may be encouraged. Use intermission as a time to consume refreshments.”
Also, with a little research, parents can determine whether a production is appropriate for the entire family. By taking the time to learn about the content, length, and general suitability of a production, the chances of having to leave because of squirming, boredom or chatting are reduced. “Choosing an appropriate play really depends upon the nature and quality of the play,” says Kash.
Some shows, such as pantomimes, are geared toward younger children, as early as two years, with a fast pace, short length, and audience participation. Generally, children in grade 2 are able to sit through a longer performance, follow the story, and remain respectful. Fletcher points out that, “Children can go to shows that are not specific to children as theatre often relays the story at many different levels. Pantomimes are fun for the whole family and a show such as Oliver also spans the range of ages.”
A shared experience
The community also benefits when children attend theatre, says Moffatt. “If they do not go when they are young, they will not go as adults. Children involved in dance, singing, and acting need a vehicle to express their talents later. If exposed to the arts early, it results in a vibrant theatrical community for the future.”
Live theatre also offers a communal experience, providing a place to congregate and share, says Kash. Watching a story unfold, participating in a moment of laughter, applauding in unison, are all instances of people coming together. What better way to spend time together as a family this holiday season?