Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, and Lion King. Why should theatre plays join the list of child-rearing instruments when we already have so much on our children’s plates such as reading books, playing outdoors, and going to school?
Some complain, saying theatre tickets cost a fortune. Others will advice you to watch the movie versions instead. Plenty more say it’s just a bunch of exaggerated actors teaching kids that all of the world’s problems could be solved by (guess what) singing about it! But do the benefits of watching live performances outweigh its costs? Is there a great morale that theatre singlehandedly or at least effectively imparts on children?
Actually, as pointed out by dramatist and theatre essayist Lauren Gunderson, theatre for the young people has long evolved to combine elegant dancing, stunning visual effects, the sparkle of new plays, innovations in puppetry, and emotional rollercoasters with musicals. Chances are, this alone is enough to inspire chidren to create or to dream. And the long list of theatre plays for children continues to grow by the season and by the geography. These days, its’s not only Disney movies and classic fairytales that are given life behind the red curtains. Subjects such as world wars and physics are also explored in ways more palatable for kids to comprehend.
But more importantly, what is the value of dressing-up and going to theatres instead of saving time by handing a kid an electronic gadget?
In a world of growing segregation (by race, by religion, by opinion, by access to priviledges, etc), it is too easy to be drained of empathy. This happens as often for adults as it does for children in school. There is growing discord not because of differences but because we fail and refuse to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. That’s where the beauty of theatre comes in. Gunderson goes on to explain that theatre encouragingly invites us to empathize with characters different from ourselves. Watching actors live makes thes experience more real and the lessons more effective. In plays, we are trained to sit down, practice our listening skills, and understand characters who may be outrageous, destitute, or fifty shades of annoying. Our caring skills are put to the test.
This is a crucial virtue that is needed by adults too. But it is just as imporatant to instill empathy into children as the future is their world, so they will need all the empathy they can muster to make a positive dent in society. For this reason alone, why shouldn’t we seek the theatre’s help in rearing our kids?
So visit the theatre, laugh with your kids, and hope you’re doing your part in changing the world for the better. It will be an added bonus if you both come home singing gleefully.