By Kevin Dean
Is Children’s Theater important? I mean really important? We live in the digital age! Children have access to technology and learning tools that we scarcely believed were possible when we were their age. There are literally millions of educational apps available for tablets and iPads. Skype and Facetime have made the world a much smaller place. Netflix and Hulu make it possible for kids to watch what they want, when they want. With all of this technology, why even bother going to the theater?!
I’ll tell you why theater is important: Because theater will help your child develop in ways you’ve never imagined. Technology is no substitute for live story-telling!
Study after study has demonstrated a correlation between theater and academic achievement. Now, I’m not arguing the importance of science or fractions, but the arts are far more than fluff! Data from a study at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education conducted by Dr. James Catterall, shows that participation in the arts greatly improves academic performance and significantly bumps up standardized test scores.
Theater also connects to the importance of reading. Drama plays a significant role in the continual development of students’ reading comprehension skills. A play, after all, has the ability to transform a story, lifting it from its pages and bringing it to life before their very eyes! And studies indicate that not only does the performance of a story contribute to a student’s understanding of the work performed, but experiencing performances also helps them develop a better understanding of other works and of language and expression in general.
Another fact to keep in mind, studies show that students who make time for the arts are more likely to be involved in community service and are less likely to drop out of school.
While theater has the ability to develop and deepen a love of reading, it can also lengthen the child’s attention span. Because of this digital age, television and video games have become extremely popular forms of entertainment. As a result, kids aren’t used to focusing for extended periods of time. They see a new image every three or four seconds. They’re bombarded with constant change. Sitting in a dark theater where they have to focus their attention for an hour teaches them to pay attention over time to a continuing story line and to listen.
I recently read an article entitled “Lack of Empathy in a Wired World”. It said that children and young people today are becoming known as ‘Generation Me.’ It would seem According to the article, this “wired world” we live in is draining the younger generation of empathy. Children don’t seem to understand each other and perhaps even more frightening, it would appear they don’t want to.
Bill English of the San Francisco Playhouse says theater is like a gym for empathy. It’s where we can go to build up the ‘muscles of compassion,’ to practice listening, understanding, and engaging with people who are not exactly like us. In the theater we practice sitting down, paying attention, and learning from other people’s actions. We practice caring.
So let me tell you what you But there are risks toby taking your children to experience theater: you run the risk of them practicing empathy. You run the risk of them putting down a video game and picking up a book. You run the risk of them improving their performance in school, learning how to handle conflict, or even becoming involved in community service.
So, is Children’s Theater important? I mean really important? I’ll leave it for you to decide.
Kevin Dean is the Director of A. D. Players’ Children’s Theater, as well as an actor, writer, and director. Award-winning performances include Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights’ Dream; Charley’s Aunt; and Smoke on the Mountain. Other favorite roles include Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest and Det. Sgt. Trotter in Mousetrap. Stage credits include God’s Favorite; Fools; Arcadia; Ring Round the Moon; Sanders Family Christmas; and Godspell among many others. In 2006, Kevin made his feature film debut in I Flunked Sunday School, where he starred as Lloyd Boyd, Personal Preacher. His TV movie, The Preacher’s Mistress, which he co-wrote with Michelle Mower, premiered on Lifetime in November of this year.