For the last month, my two oldest kids and my niece practiced with a crew of local thespians to put on a rousing performance of “Beauty Is a Beast” and other “Fairytales with a Twist” at The Tin Shop Theatre in Buchanan. Under the guidance of Director Kelly Carlin (Aunt Kelly to my kids) and Stage Manager Megan Goodrich, thirty kids ranging in age from 4 to 20 were coached and corralled into an impressive cast list bursting with enthusiasm and talent. Have you ever hosted a kid birthday party and attempted to direct the group of invited youngsters in the playing of an organized game or a coordinated activity? Now imagine doing that every night for a month. Throw in wardrobe changes, memorized lines, and a packed audience and you will get some sense of the enormity of their task. Forget the pretend magic playing out on stage, the real wizardry takes place behind the curtain by two ladies dressed in black and whispering instructions to adolescent actors waiting in the wings.
It’s a pretty amazing thing to see your kid on a stage, illuminated by the spotlight and pretending to be somebody else. Logically you know that this is the child you tuck into bed every night, but every few minutes you catch yourself believing that this character is authentic and this story line is real. It’s a transformative experience for them too. My sweet little niece Gracie, often shy in “real life,” took the stage every night with poise and confidence and impressed all of us with her natural acting abilities. Typically the last to volunteer, she was the first to raise her hand to try out during auditions and the concept of stage fright doesn’t appear to be on her radar. My son, an actor since birth, has found an even larger stage than his YouTube channel provides and relishes the feedback from the audience. And my daughter, a five-year-old fashionista, well she finally found an acceptable excuse to wear makeup. Watching her backstage as the older girls apply mascara to her baby lashes and lipstick to her pursed out lips, I’m thankful that she is growing up surrounded by accomplished young ladies who demonstrate character and radiate talent. They are all experiencing a sense of camaraderie that is so special for children their age and I am forever grateful for the older kids who have taken my three under their wings.
And speaking of the older kids, I’m not even sure how to express my wide range of amazement for their abilities. These are teenagers who willingly put on wigs and ridiculous costumes and walk out on stage in front of family and friends and, more importantly, other kids their own age. Conventional wisdom would suggest that kids in this age group would rather walk off a cliff than risk an embarrassing incident in front of their peers, however these kids aren’t your typical teens. They are self-assured and brave, feeding on the palpable support of their cast members and fueled by the electricity of a performance under the lights. They fight back the nerves and step out onto the stage, knowing that the experience is worth the anxiety. It is encouraging to see so much raw talent concentrated into one group of kids and refreshing to see how humbly and graciously they accept their nightly accolades. They are the leaders of our next generation, the ones who will put in the work and get the job done. The ones who will take risks for new discoveries and encourage others to do the same. I’m confident that their futures will hold many more performances deserving of our applause.
So, as they say in theatre, “That’s a wrap!” (I’m a stage mom now, so I know all about theatre lingo.) But the friendships gained during the many hours of rehearsal and the lessons learned over the course of six performances will continue long after the last guest has left the playhouse. More importantly, this experience has left me with a profound sense of urgency for the support of the performing arts for youth in our area. Budget cuts and decreased funding have crippled the abilities of school districts across the nation to provide such opportunities for their students. It is now common to see theatre classes squeezed out of the curriculum and drama departments dropped entirely. Administrators who would love to offer a wide array of performing arts programs find their hands tied by a national education movement more concerned with STEM courses (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) than a well-rounded student. Our schools, and our students, are suffering from a lack of enrichment opportunities. So it is up to us, the parents and the business owners and the community at large, to cultivate and encourage a community that values the performing arts. It is our responsibility to support the amazing programs that already exist in our schools (both with our dollars and our attendance) and cheer on the efforts of community members who provide similar after-school opportunities for our kids. So, as a parent and a community member, I would like to say a huge thank you to the people who work behind the scenes to provide our kids with experiences in the fields of performing arts and music and theatre and stage production. The leaders of our fine arts programs, the companion of performing arts, deserve our appreciation and recognition as well. In a world filled with harsh realities and devastating news headlines, we should all work together to support the sanctity and beauty that an art-enriched life can provide for our children and encourage them to jump into a fairytale and escape to a far-away land of make-believe, if only for a few hours.