I was a shy child. Painfully shy. The song from Once Upon a Mattress should have been my theme song. A good friend got me involved in musical theatre. I credit my theatre classes and performance activities as a child with my ability to speak in front of people, hold conversations with strangers, and be confident in social situations today.
Participation in the theatre helps kids and teenagers develop many important life skills. Some are obvious and some are a little less so, but all can help our students transition from home (or school) into the real world.
In preparing for and participating in performances, young actors and actresses are taught how to breathe properly to support their voice for long periods. They practice articulation. They learn to focus on the people to whom they speak. Their ability to memorize grows with each role they play.
The most important training they gain, however, is not in the rehearsal and performance time but in the auditions. For an audition they must dress professionally, introduce themselves, sing a song or present a monologue with a team of directors, producers, and choreographers staring at them. An audition, after all, is an interview for one of the most fun jobs available!
When I had to do public speaking in high school and college and then teach Intro to Theatre as a graduate student, I was grateful for these skills. I was still nervous, but after years of practice, I was able to focus that nervous energy into my speaking in a productive way rather than clamming up.
The ensemble of a play or musical is a team. If one member of that team fails to do their job (memorize lines or remember blocking), then the whole team suffers. It can be terrifying to be on stage and forget or fumble over lines. If a performer does that one time, it generally pushes them to study and rehearse even harder the next time around.
If a student has a paper to write and lines to memorize and dance classes to attend and family commitments to work around, they will learn to manage their time well. It may take a few years (or shows), but they will learn how much TV and computer time they can handle and still get everything done. They will learn to multitask – eat and study lines or listen to a soundtrack and do chores while practicing dance steps – it really makes chores a lot more fun!
Theatre has hard deadlines. You cannot procrastinate on memorizing Shakespeare. Performers learn to work toward a goal a little each day instead of cramming before a deadline (test or performance). They see the success of incremental study.
HOME IMPROVEMENT AND REPAIR SKILLS
Did you know that all the fancy faux painting techniques currently popular on Pinterest have been used on theatrical sets for years? I can paint a wall in one coat and it looks like two. I learned that in theatre tech class. I can use power tools to tear down and build because I not only helped build sets, but I have participated in strike (tear down and clean up) for every single show in which I have participated!
SEWING AND CLOTHING MAINTENANCE
At some point, every performer will have to sew on a button, mend a ripped seam, fix a hem, iron a costume, or probably even build a full costume. You never know what may happen backstage! You may catch the heel of your character shoe in the hem of your dress. Once an amateur show opens, there may not be a costumer back stage to make a repair. Someone has to fix that hem so you won’t trip in the middle of the big dance number!
I learned to hand sew because I needed pointe shoes prepared for class. I learned to machine sew because I needed a very specific costume. I got better at sewing because I had to make a lot more costumes!
Costumes have to be ironed to look good on stage. If you don’t hang up those costumes, they get rumpled and the costume crew will make you iron it yourself because you dropped it. (Or they charge you a fine!) You learn to iron, then you learn to hang clothing properly.
RESPECT FOR OTHERS
This goes along with teamwork, but beyond as well. Learning your lines and being on time for rehearsal are only two of the many ways actors show respect for the cast, crew, and production staff.
Maintaining a neat space in the dressing room is essential during performances. Everyone suffers when one actor spreads out over the whole dressing table and floor. Respect for fellow actors and their space makes sharing cramped spaces more peaceful.
Showing appreciation for everyone’s contribution is one of the greatest ways to show respect. No one wants to work with the actor who thinks the show is a success only because of them. Respect is important in theatre and in life. It can be a harsh, but important, lesson for some performers.
What theatre opportunities are available in your area?