"No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure." - Emma Goldman
It's no secret to anyone who knows me: I love kids. I work in a preschool, I babysit, I do children's camps… So, naturally, children's theater is of interest to me. I'm talking about theater for children, of course, but also theater of children. I've experienced my share of both.
Theater created for children can be just plain bad. I'm sure you've all seen the kind of show I'm talking about. Park-and-bark acting style and a bland story that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Or the children's adaptation, that cuts out any of the meat of a story and presents it in a clean (boring) way. That kind of children's theater drives me mad. Why? One of the rules of "adult" theater is don't underestimate your audience. Well, it applies here too. Kids aren't stupid. Kids are brilliant, and they often see things that adults miss. Kids don't deserve condescending theater. Kids deserve thought provoking, exciting, fun theater.
They also deserve a chance to create theater that means something to them. Of course, at a certain age (say two or three), most kids are content to put on a funny costume and run around waving a magic wand. But at a young age, children have experienced the same kinds of emotions and problems that adults have, if perhaps on a smaller scale. They know what loss is. They know what it's like to be treated unfairly. They know about hurting other people. They know about being hurt. They are beginning to understand right and wrong - and I think this one in particular is great to consider, because I'd say that they will continue "beginning to understand" right and wrong for the rest of their lives, like the rest of us. So if adults have plays about "the difficult issues" - coping with the loss of a loved one, about a man who just can't catch a break, about a woman struggling to make relationships last, about the grey areas of right and wrong - why can't children's theater help kids work through the issues that they deal with in life?
If you ask children about "important issues," they often surprise you with their insight. My personal experience is more geared toward preschoolers, who amaze me every day. They have the ability to reason, for example. They recognize symbols. More importantly, they have such a capacity for imagination and expression. And they create their own theater every day. At the preschool where I work, there is a section of the room called "Dramatic Play Area." This area has become a house, a post office, a grocery store, and a space station, just to name a few. In it, the kids develop characters who act differently from themselves, enact relationships that are imaginary, and even create story lines. These are people capable of creating theater, especially theater that speaks to other children.