Monday, May 16, 2011

Don't you dare tell Monday that they're "Just Kids"

Hello, girls! It’s Monday! And it’s a cold, wet, dreary Monday here in Northwest Ohio. I hope the weather looks better where you are!

Alexandra: I find your bucket list to be perfectly acceptable. I think there’s a difference between the future goals we have for our lives and those random things we’d just like to accomplish at some point. Good luck on your residency and on accomplishing all of your goals.

Carlyn: Yay bell choir! And really, that’s all that needs to be said.

Casey: I knew one of us would get screwed over by technology at some point. I say no punishment. In the immortal words of President Bartlet: “I always knew one day I’d get screwed by a computer.” Also, I love your head scarf!

Christina: I’m glad you enjoyed the Twilight video. I had a lot of fun working on it. To answer your question, any video with Henry in it has been a favorite of mine, especially Hank’s birthday video. That kid is utterly adorable. And I’m a huge fan of any and all of John’s Question Tuesday videos.

Also, to clarify my suggested challenge structure, not everyone needs to come up with their challenge this week. Just Carlyn. The rest of us can wait until closer to the day, as long as we post the challenge in enough time for the others to adequately prepare.

And now for my soapbox. I actually just went on this rant not too long ago. My little brother was in a theatre class where he had to interview someone and then recreate the interview, and he interviewed me about this topic because he knew I’d get interestingly heated about it. And he’s right, because anyone who knows me even a little knows what my hot topic is.

But first, a bit of background. If you don’t understand the climate, you won’t understand the rant.

I work in youth theatre. The field of youth theatre is sadly under-represented and under-valued. The prevalent attitude toward youth theatre seems to be that it’s a necessary annoyance, a good opportunity to keep kids occupied, but that it doesn’t really hold up against “legitimate” adult theatre.

This opinion angers me. This opinion angers me greatly.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard, “Oh, that was a good job for kids,” or “For youth theatre, that wasn’t too bad,” or “It’s just a kids’ show; it’s not that important.” It drives me crazy, and what’s most infuriating is that it comes predominantly from within the theatre community. There’s this ridiculous attitude that the theatre being put on by young performers is somehow less than other kinds of theatre. And I am sick and tired of it.

I have seen and been a part of youth theatre programs that are the lifeblood of the community theatres they are a part of. The theatre I grew up in has an eight or ten show season, two of which are youth theatre productions. And the main stage shows are made up of second-rate musicals like “Gilligan’s Island” and one of any number of Nunsense sequels. The casts are made up of the same twelve people playing the same role over and over again because they’re not drawing in any new blood. And these shows are drawing half a house at best, night after night. While the youth theatre is doing the big shows, Oklahoma and Cinderella, and they’re pulling 80 to 100 kids at auditions, and they’re casting 50 to 60 of them, and selling out every night and having to add weekends to the run to accommodate the demand, and still the attitude of this theatre board is, “Oh, it’s just youth theatre.” That “just” youth theatre is what is keeping their theatre afloat and functioning, thank you very much, and to refuse to acknowledge that is the highest insult they could give.

I have directed three full length shows, taught six semester-long theatre classes, and run a summer camp program, and I have been consistently blown away not only by the talent I have encountered, but by the dedication and the drive and the passion these students have for their craft. They’re doing these shows because they want to, they want to squeeze it in among everything else that they’re doing. These young performers are just as talented, just as dedicated, and put just as much energy and hard work into their performances as adult actors do, and sometimes more, and to dismiss that work and that love out of hand is inadmissible. Do not undermine the work that these actors are doing, because they are actors, regardless of their age. They have earned that title, and I am sick and tired of dealing with people who insist on seeing that talent as the exception to the rule.

It is especially infuriating that it is the theatre professionals, these adult actors, who most often put forth this attitude, because I guarantee that at one point or another, almost all of those actors were young performers! They out of everyone should recognize the importance of youth theatre! But instead, they act like it doesn’t matter, like kids don’t have the right to have access to the kind of facilities or sets or what have you that adult actors do. Like it would be wasted on them somehow.

It is insulting, and it is condescending, and it is disrespectful. It is treating these students like they’re stupid or incapable or lesser. And I cannot stand it. I have seen my student actors overcome challenges that a lot of adult actors I know wouldn’t be able to. When I directed Cinderella, I lost two actors on final dress and opening night to illness. The adults involved were freaking out, saying I was going to have to step in or get another college student to step in and take the roles so that we could still perform. I didn’t. I took two actors from within the show and plugged them in. And both of these girls, one thirteen and one eight, took the parts that I had handed them on top of their own, and memorized the new part in a single day. And you could not tell that they hadn’t been in that part from the beginning.

These kids are not the exception to the rule. I don’t happen to have the most talented child actors in the world here in Bowling Green with me. The fact that I have worked with over 100 incredibly talented students over the four shows, six classes, and two camps I’ve done in the two years I’ve been with Horizon should show that. It’s not luck or coincidence or happenstance that our shows are as strong as they are, and it shouldn’t be chalked up to such. It’s because of the incredible amount of work and dedication and passion that these students have put into everything they’ve done, and it is our duty to recognize that. Dismissing their success as a fluke undermines everything they have done. And that is true across the board.

This soapbox is specific to youth theatre, but the rant behind it is much more broadly applicable. To paraphrase the immortal John Green, shut up and stop condescending to kids. They are not anywhere as stupid as we treat them, and that’s good, because from all accounts, we apparently think they’re pretty stupid.

They’re not. I have been working with kids since I was a kid, babysitting, teaching bible school, teaching theatre classes and camps, stage managing and directing shows. They are not stupid. Collectively, my kids are smarter than I am. I am continuously blown away by the amount of creativity that explodes out of every group I work with, far more creativity than I could ever produce on my own. They are not stupid, and they should not be treated as such.

I will never tell my kids that what they’re doing doesn’t matter because they’re just kids, or that they shouldn’t worry about doing their best, because they’re just kids. It would be the worst disservice I could ever do them. I hold my students and their productions to incredibly high standards. And they’ve met them every time.

One of the first pieces of feedback I ever got from Horizon thanked me for choosing a script that really treated the kids as mature actors, and wasn’t just a glorified pageant. My first thought was to be appalled that anyone had been doing anything else with them.

We have to start recognizing what our children are capable of. Doing anything else is dooming our future. So shut up, adults of the world, and stop condescending to your kids. Please.

*Cassie climbs down off her soapbox and walks away*

1 comment:

  1. In all fairness, "Gilligan's Island" the musical wasn't THAT bad. But yeah, your point is, as always, well taken. I'm sure there are parents who would be appalled at how much you yelled at the kids today, when A) you honestly didn't yell at them THAT much, and B) it was needed to maintain those high standards.