Saturday, March 26, 2011

Benefits of Theatre Training for Kids

I'm so fortunate and grateful for the many exciting and wonderful opportunities I have to be creative. Access to outlets for self expression is something that everyone should have. Often the arts are underplayed, undervalued, and underfunded but when we take time to assess the benefits of these types of programs it is virtually impossible to miss how fundamentally important the arts, in any form, can be.

My love of the stage began at a very early age. I was constantly performing for anyone who would listen (or whom I could force to listen) from about 3 years old - after seeing Annie on television with Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan. This began my lifelong obsession with comedy, musical theatre, and creating  characters because, life is funny and there is no greater comedy than truth.

But I digress...

These days I am a wife and mom first. But I still have to eek out a living and I've had to make working work for me so I have several part-time jobs - blogging is one of them. I also sing and act, write, sell books, teach, and work in the behavioral health field. It's been great to combine all the things I love and make money too. So much of my passion, connection, and various professional opportunities have resulted from the strength of skills developed in theatre. In building my businesses, volunteering, networking, interviewing for jobs, and even just facing challenges that come in the form of difficult people and situations I rely on that foundation to help me navigate.

For nearly 2 years I have been teaching acting, public speaking, and movement to elementary age children. What an amazing journey and it's only just beginning. I will soon be expanding these offerings within the Richmond community (more on that in the coming weeks). But before I began teaching I was working in a community mental health agency developing programs and opportunities to ensure that all people have access to creativity and expression in every environment - often those who need it most have the least access (although I do believe every human needs it). As an advocate for the arts and personal expression I wanted to dedicate this post to outlining some of the benefits of this type of training for all people at any age, stage, or ability.

So here they are:

Rule #1 in my classes Respect Your Fellow Classmates. We clap, we encourage, we listen, and we don't poke fun when someone messes up - often the best art comes from embracing mistakes. Everyone is valued. This rule is essential in theatre but most of all in life.

When we enter into any situation the ability to express our thoughts and ideas in a clear, concise, and articulate manner may be second to none in determining success in life. Whether interacting in professional or personal situations the ability to do so effectively sends a message to peers and cohorts that we can be depended upon to get the job done. This also involves a solid understanding of body language and non-verbal communication.

The mother of one of my students, who is the youngest of three children, recently stated that this training is as important as anything else the kids learn in their school day. She also stated that if her older children had access to theatre training at this age it would have made such a difference in their lives as they entered into middle school. Her youngest daughter, who has taken now 4 of my classes, is far more confident and comfortable with the idea of giving presentations and performing because the skills and opportunity to practice were introduced to her at a young age. I have seen my kids grow more and more comfortable as classes progress. They leave with strength knowing that they can memorize lines, listen for cue pick-ups, speak strongly, take constructive criticism, and work as a team.

Public Speaking
The very act of speaking in public is enough to send a lot of people over the edge. When I was a kid they just said "picture the audience naked." Not helpful! The only way to get used to public speaking is by practicing public speaking. If they start when they are young then this act will become as comfortable as breathing for most kids. Learning to project, enunciate, make eye contact, speak steadily, use inflection, and say thank you to let the audience know they are done - are some of the skills we focus on.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Before and actor can act he or she must prepare. They must learn lines, research the real life aspects of their character, understand where that person comes from, who they are, and how they (the actor) relates and can bring their own individual experiences to a role. Now in my classes (at least with Elementary age kids) I don't go into quite that level of detail, but in preparing any performance the value of being prepared is stressed. Do you have your costume and/or props? Do you know your lines? Do you know where you are supposed to stand (blocking)? Even in classes for pre-school age children we can teach the importance of preparation. Learning the value of preparation has obvious impact on school, job, and overall life performance.

Acting is reacting. In order to react appropriately you must be listening. The ability to listen is a skill that is beneficial in all aspects of life. Everyone likes a good listener. In fact Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, places listening at the very pinnacle of achieving that end. He states, and I'm paraphrasing here, that making people feel important, understood, and listened to is key to winning their respect.

Trusting Your Instincts
This is such an immensely valuable element of success and there are few other arenas in which a person can see almost immediately whether or not a choice was the right one. This helps kids to understand appropriateness of choices, gauge other's reactions, hear their own inner voice, and at times make choices that they feel are right even in the when they might not get the expected response from the audience. Especially important in older kids this skill (or willingness) is fundamentally important when peer pressure kicks in - a kid who is aware of that "inner voice"or "gut feeling" is more likely to listen when he hears it.

Trusting Others
Today we are skeptical. It's a valid and acceptable trait but the ability to suspend our skepticism and innate mistrust of others is important in certain situations. Working closely in a theatrical environment students/actors are often asked to place their trust in their cast mates, especially in improv games which carries into an openness when doing a formal production (and then into life when we find ourselves in a collaborative environment). This ties in directly to the previous element, when we are able to trust our own instincts AND trust those with whom we are working very exciting creative situations can occur! The improvisational theatre mantra is "Yes, and?" Meaning that whatever someone throws at you on stage your response should be - whether stated or implied in your action - "Yes, and?" This is where magic happens.

Thinking on Your Toes
The "Yes, and" mentality requires the ability to think quickly and adapt. This is an essential life mechanism. Sometimes we don't have exactly what we need so we have to improvise. Sometimes in theatre someone forgets a line, makes a wrong entrance, or does something completely unexpected. A person who can keep going, make necessary changes, and build on a mistake is successful. The ability to do this effectively is the result of having developed all of the previously mentioned skills. Imagine how valuable this is in the "real world."

Emotional Connectedness / Generosity
Often we hear celebrity actors being interviewed talking about their cast mates stating how "Generous" they were. This is a reflection of a confidence and supportiveness that is essential in most creative endeavors - but also translates into really amazing group work in any situation. If participants enter into a work group (in school, at work, in an internship or volunteer opportunity) with a sense of openness and understanding that a group is truly only as strong as it's weakest member then everyone will want to be supportive and "generous" of their time, praise, and support. The sort of confidence that is required to do this is something that few people have naturally and most people develop over time with practice and experience. The more we do something the more comfortable we are in helping others to be their very best.

Team Work
This is often considered a term for sports - even though we use it everyday in our lives. Theatre develops team work as effectively as any sport. Again, everyone works together to make a production its very best. This can only occur if each cast member, crew person, director, stage manager, etc. is making their strongest effort. Not everyone is the star player on the basketball team and not everyone is the lead in the play but with a commitment to working together to produce the very best result possible there is a great sense of accomplishment.

No one can force an actor to prepare, be supportive, or come with focus and attention to detail. Only they can empower themselves to commit. Learning lines, making time to practice and improve come from a sense of self-reliance that is an essential counterpart to team work. Theatre teaches kids that others are depending on them to show up and be prepared and the only way to accomplish these goals are with a certain amount to self-reliance. Of course parents and teachers/directors can offer support but the kids themselves have to feel the commitment is theirs.

Ok, well I truly believe there are a million other benefits from theatre training for kids but for the sake of time I will end here. I feel certain that any theatre professional could add several elements as well - the benefits are far reaching but they also differ depending on the individual. Please consider finding an opportunity for your children (and you if you are so inclined) to benefit from the value of creative expression and the many skills that follow theatrical training. If you are in the Richmond, VA area and you are interested in this training for your child, older children, group, or organization please contact me.  Have a great Saturday!



  1. Maybe I need to put my daughter in theatre training! I'm not in VA, but I will definitely be looking for some out here where I live.

    I am a new follower via GFC and new networked blog follower from the Saturday blog hop. I would love a follow back!

    Also, I just posted a new giveaway where one lucky person will win an I Spy Bag. It is a great QUIET entertaining toy for kids. So come check it out and pass it along.

    Have a super happy Saturday!


  2. Hi thank you for following me and having my button on your blog im now following you back..

  3. Great post:) following from the hop

  4. New follower from the Monday blog hop, have a fantastic week!

  5. Great post! I've always signed my kids up for theatrical summer camps at our local Fine Arts Center. Great blog too!
    I'm a NEW FOLLOWER from the hop. If you have time, I hope you can hop by and visit me:

  6. New follower from the hop, would love a follow back please!

  7. Hi! I am stopping by from Welcome Wednesday. I am a new follower. Great blog. Blessings...
    Saved By Love Creations

  8. hi,
    coming to you from the blog hop. I am happy to be your newest follower. If you'd like to follow back, I can be reached at
    Please stop by for book club if you're interested--Connie