Community theater programs do wonders for kids of all ages.
My daughters, Emma and Sophia, recently auditioned for their first play. It’s a children’s theater production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” put on by Stage Struck Players in Odenton. We had recently read the book for our mother-daughter book club, and both of them had laughed hysterically through my dramatic reading of Roald Dahl’s classic. This was mainly due to my comedic timing, I assume, but Dahl’s characters surely played a role as well.
So when we heard about auditions for “Charlie,” they knew they wanted to be a part of it. They were even more excited to learn that Stage Struck Players guarantees that any elementary- or middle-school aged child who auditions will get a role. We were ecstatic when they landed two roles each—Emma played Grandma Georgina, Sophia was Grandma Josephine, and both of them sang about the perils of over-indulgence as Oompa Loompas.
I’m so grateful that theater clicked for my daughters. My kids aren’t interested in sports, so I’m thrilled that we’ve found an activity they love. According to Marian Newell, the director at Stage Struck Players, this is one of the major benefits of children’s community theater.
“We have fabulous sports programs in the area,” says Newell. “What we lack, in a lot of cases, is the arts. And unfortunately, what is often the case in the elementary school and middle school system is that performing arts are not as significant or present.”
Kim Garrett of Odenton says that theater helped her son, Ryan, find his niche. “It gave him the confidence that he needed because he’s not really into sports. The theater was a way that he could get in front of people and show his confidence and bring out some of his personality.”
Several studies have shown that participation in performance arts has educational and social benefits, and can even be therapeutic for some kids. A 2002 report by the Arts Education Partnership found that children exposed to the music and theater arts have improved academic performance. In addition, sustained student involvement in theater arts can help kids improve their reading skills, boost self concept and motivation, and increase their ability to empathize with others.
Newell says she’s noticed a plethora of other benefits for her young actors as well. “Participation in children’s theater builds confidence, teamwork and camaraderie,” she says. “It gives these kids the basic skills they are going to need in any career. They’re learning pronunciation and volume. I always tell people, you know, 99 percent of the people you meet in your life, they’re going to have to go on an interview. And the keys to doing a good interview are confidence, being poised, and being articulate. Theater certainly can give you those skills.”
Rebecca Kotraba-Bhargava, president of West Arundel Creative Arts, agrees. “If you have to give a class presentation or give a business report, this is going to teach you how to stand up in front of people, how to annunciate, how to do a collaborative type of event,” she says. Adding, “It’s a team effort, just like being on a sports team. You have your own character, and you have everyone else’s character, and you have to be able to work those together.”
Amy Regel of Odenton has two sons involved in theater. “I wanted them to get into it because everything is instant gratification now. To do a play, you have to work at it. You can’t ignore it. You can’t let it go by the wayside. You have other people depending on you. Hopefully, in the end, they see they see all that effort and commitment pay off.”
According to Newell, that payoff is huge for a lot of kids. “When those kids get up there and they do that bow, and the audience stands for them, they get bit by the theater bug. They say, ‘When’s the next show?’ I love that. It is so gratifying to have 50 people clapping for you.”
While kids of any age can benefit from theater, Newell says it is especially fulfilling to work with younger, elementary school kids. “I’m impressed with these kids,” she says. “I’m shocked. I’ve worked with middle and high school students and these kids have really brought the talent. Maybe it’s because they don’t have the inhibitions the high schoolers and middle schoolers have.”
Building Better People Productions
Dream House: A Rainy Day Play* by Jeremy Gable Performance is August 18.
Children’s Theatre of Annapolis
Chesapeake Children’s Theatre
College Park Arts Exchange
College Park; cpae.org
Oliver Twist! Performances August 4–5.
The Talent Machine
42nd Street, Performances July 13–15 and 19–22.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Performances Aug. 3–5 and 9–12.
West Arundel Center for the Art
College Park Arts Exchange
Oliver Twist! No auditions necessary. All children ages 4–14 will be cast. Registration required by July 1.
Stage Struck Players
West Arundel Center for the Arts