Spotify just made me a “summer jams” playlist based on my listening habits that includes, no joke, the entr’acte from “Pippin”, so it probably won't surprise you to learn that I didn’t participate in sports as a child. Like, at all.
However, I don't think I'm any worse off for fulfilling this nerd stereotype, because my high school sport was community theater. Every value and life skill that kids get from team athletics, I got from the stage.
(Above: Leah, ready for the stage. Photo courtesy of Leah Thomas.)
Just go down any checklist of why parents are encouraged to put their kids into sports. Time management? My homework got done faster when I was in a show. Discipline? Try showing up to blocking rehearsal without a pencil. Self-esteem? Let’s talk about laughter and applause. My social circle expanded to include kids I wouldn’t otherwise interact with. My mentors included directors, stage managers, and choreographers.
I want to stress, too, that I did this as part of a team. I realize there's a preconceived notion of theater kids being both socially awkward and breathtakingly narcissistic, and it's true that you’re going to encounter a Rachel Berry or two. That said, the truth of the theater is that it’s collaborative and supportive. You’re part of a massive team that’s working together toward a common goal of getting a show up and running.
That's just as true for the backstage crew as it is for the actors. I learned that in junior high, when I wasn't cast in "The Secret Garden". If being in a community theater acting ensemble didn’t teach me about teamwork, then covering for the Assistant Stage Manager at age 12 certainly did. Plus, I was behind the scenes when I discovered that if you set something up, it is imperative to think ahead and consider the person who has to take it down. That happens to be the best piece of life advice I have.
And sure, I probably could have been in better physical shape. But dance warm-ups combined with lifting lights, drapes, and literal bricks at load-in and strike didn’t do nothing. The only thing missing was Vitamin D, probably. Try as they might, theater folk do tend to become vampires, trapped indoors for hours.
(Above: Leah, post rehearsal with fellow cast members. Photo courtesy of Leah Thomas.)
For me, this experience proves that the arts aren’t an abstract concept or a hobby. They don’t just instill students with passion and an appreciation for beauty, or provide “well-rounded” interests for a college application. Participating in the theater helps kids become confident, strong, considerate, and thoughtful human beings.
How about you? Did theater teach you something when you were a kid? Or do you see it teaching your kids today? I’d love to hear what you think theater participation can teach us, so let’s discuss in the comments!
(And while you’re at it, check out our updated list of the best theater camps in the NYC area, in case you know a kid who’s looking to have few artistic experiences this summer.)