We all don’t grow up in the theatre and none of my family save my Mom dabbling in a little set painting had any interest in acting or being a part of the theatre environment but…I wanted to do nothing else for as long as I can remember. Acting in theatre productions has been something I have loved working in over the years and because I found my niche my children grew up around theatre as well. My children spent so many hours in the space it was their second home. Between rehearsals and shows running late into the evening I would sometimes find them curled up asleep in a chair or off chatting to cast or crew while I was working. To some this may seem shocking…my children roaming freely about in an environment full of adults but for us this was just normal. Children often accompanied their parents and we were all one big family. From the time mine were able to walk they were a part of what was going on whenever I was involved. Both of my youngest boys enjoyed the experience, my oldest did not. He often stayed with his Grandmother on show nights. “It is SO BORING Mom”, were his words of choice. By the age of six, my middle son was already 4 yrs into a television & commercial career and my youngest was a toddler when he started booking his first commercial gigs. Juggling their careers and mine along with their schooling and my oldest son who preferred Air Cadets, was an interesting 3 ring circus most days.
My children are an exception to the norm. Having been exposed to all elements of theatre and film from birth onward, they grew up knowing they either wanted to take part or not. My middle son as mentioned was very successful but when he started high school he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore. He just wanted to pack all the acting in right then and there. Even after all his years of hard work he was adamant about quitting. As parents we have to be willing to accept and understand their choices and deal with them best we can. Children quitting the “acting biz” is quite common when they garner success early on. Long hours, lack of social interaction with their peers, high school and wanting to fit in all come into play. They want to be like other children and don’t want to stand out. Throughout high school my middle son decided on numerous alternate career paths. First he wanted to be a chef, then a dentist, then a power engineer which is what he ultimately set his sights on and is working as today. Last year at age 25, he was offered some lucrative and guaranteed film work by a respected director but he turned it down flat.
My youngest after spending his early years in film & TV went a completely different route and while staying in entertainment ultimately chose music. This has always been his calling. When my middle son got an audition for the Toronto production of The Lion King as young Simba, it was my youngest who nailed the song and performance requirements after 20 minutes while his older brother struggled with the vocals for more than 4 hours. My youngest was 4 at the time. Today he is a successful Pop Star in Asia at the ripe old age of 21.
Most kids are like my oldest son who even after spending many an evening in theatre with me when he was young, took some classes, had some fun, but had no interest whatsoever in pursuing anything remotely related to acting or stage related production as he got older. He went on from Air Cadets to get his private pilot’s license, race cars, chase storms, and is a wicked photographer, all this and he chose a career as a computer engineer. Today he is 34 and the “Official” adrenaline junkie in the family.
So where am I going with all this? Children, my children, your children, any children who show an interest in theatre or acting of any sort, what do we do with them? Where do we start?
We start with “What does my child want to do?”
As an instructor of children ages 6 through 13, I can at least give you some insight into my experiences of what works and what doesn’t. Each year I am hired by my city to teach week long summer drama programs. I teach privately at my home and work for several theatre schools as well. Over the years I have developed a teaching strategy that offers maximum experience in minimum time. My structured environment allows for children’s creativity and growth as well as learning the fundamentals of acting. I work with two age ranges: 6 to 9, and 10 to 13 for the summer drama programs. I have found separating the children into these age groups allows the younger children to grow at a pace suited to their capabilities and the older group to work toward a more challenging level of performance. Both age ranges are expected to work within certain parameters and are taught to respect the craft. I structure my program as a drama camp workshop that spans one week for each age group. Both learn the fundamentals of acting, organizing ideas, blocking, basic set design, rehearsal techniques, understanding scripts, writing and how to mount a one act play that is suited to their age group. I work with the children to come up with the basic plot outline, character names and personalities and we write the play as we go. By doing so the children learn through the entire process. I break up the days by injecting a series of theatre games, improv, voice training and body movement into our mornings and afternoons are put into the production itself. One week sounds like an incredibly short period of time to learn anything but the children do grow and learn at an amazing pace improving their ability and their focus. The plays are not productions that go onto a professional stage. They are created and performed for friends and family and give the children the understanding of team work. They learn to work together, understand each others strengths and weaknesses, laugh together, cry together and learn how important it is to be supportive of each other and respect each other. These are lessons that no matter where they go in life they can take with them and use on a daily basis.
I do get asked every once in a while WHAT is the appropriate age for a child to start in theatre?
Young children such as toddlers and pre-school benefit from social interaction and theatre games that can be played within their learning capacity but I believe at that age they are too young to start into a theatre class structure. Some actors/teachers/instructors may disagree with me but I stand firm on my experience working with children of varying ages and their parents. In my opinion if children are old enough to comprehend expectations and understand direction when given they are old enough to start into theatre training. This is generally at about 6 or 7 years of age. For younger children I recommend enrolling them in non-competitive dance or gymnastic classes first, starting at about age four. These classes help children learn control of their bodies and minds in unison, and how to work with their peers in a more fluid environment. I actually recommend dance for all children, they truly benefit.
While you know your child better than anyone else, what we are looking at here is an introduction to the world of theatre. Before they start you as their parent need to establish the level of interest from your child. I often hear parents saying things like, “My child wants to sing and dance, or my child wants to perform.” This does not mean they want to pursue theatre. Maybe they just like singing and/or dancing. If they are sure they are interested in “acting in theatrical productions” the next step is finding the right theatre or drama class for them. Again, it depends on what your child’s expectations are. If it is for fun and the sheer joy of the experience you can go just about anywhere that has a good reputation. If your child is looking for something on a more professional scale the task becomes that much harder. Do they want to learn stage acting, comedy/improv, musicals or maybe even film & television acting? Are they preparing for entry into a school for the arts or a college degree? Each one of these areas, while a part of the over all acting experience have very different routes of delivery when it comes to training. Be sure you know which direction your child would like to try before you start them on their way.
Theatre is a wonderful world for children and adults alike. It teaches so much more than just acting, singing or dancing, stage design etc.. it teaches life skills. As parents all we need is a little direction as to where we let our children dip their toes before they leap in.
Below you will find a few helpful hints I have comprised to assist you and set your child on their way.
) What is it your child truly wants to do? Acting, dancing, singing, etc… Ask then ask again. Reaffirming their decision is paramount.
) Be prepared to spend a lot of your free time or otherwise taking your child to and from classes, workshops, rehearsals, and shows.
) Look for an instructor or school that offers experience. A school that provides training from actors/instructors who have experience is always best.
) Take your time, get referrals and look at the school or instructor’s history. If your child is serious about acting and they live and breathe the stage, give them the best possible leg up.
Look for classes that are age appropriate and don’t lump all children into one class. A 6 year old does not learn at the same pace as a 14 year old.
) If money is an issue look for city or locally funded programs where you can often get a break on the cost or speak with someone who owns their own school to see what they can offer. The Arts should be accessible to ALL children.
) Make sure your child is truly invested in the journey. If you are having a hard time getting them to the class or they are reluctant to participate then they are not interested in their training. Never force your child to take on something they have little interest in.
) Children thrive when encouraged. Theatre may not be your thing, but it might be theirs. Try to keep your likes and dislikes from interfering with your child’s growth. Children benefit immensely when we react positively to their successes.
Written by Seika Groves Jan. 2019