As a child I was very fortunate that my parents took me and my siblings to the theatre, usually to Christmas pantos, and although the music department did a musical every couple of years, drama was not on the curriculum at school. I was 16 and on an A-Level English trip to Stratford-upon-Avon when I did my first drama workshop, and it changed my life!
You can read how I started in theatre here.
However, a few decades later, I still remember sitting in the auditorium at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre and desperately wanting to be one of the kids brought up on stage in the panto; of utterly believing in the world being created in front of me; and loving the entire theatre experience. For many years in my teens hanging out in Sheffield I remember being drawn to the Crucible and just soaking up the atmosphere, but I would never have described myself as a drama-kid.
Now, as a parent, and as someone who has taught theatre for many years, I have been privileged to see children's wonder and joy at experiencing theatre for the first time, and how it has changed them, and here are 10 reasons why it is so important to expose children to theatre.
1. We Can See That We’re Not Alone
Some shows help us see others going through the same emotional struggles as we are, or help us empathise with those who are going through things we can't comprehend, such as sexuality, identity, discrimination or abuse. EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE explores sexuality, WICKED investigates identity and race, while DEAR EVAN HANSEN looks at social anxiety. Theatre can help young people process what they are feeling, which can be a powerful experience.
2. Theatre May Give Your child An Idea For Their Future
Most people think there is no money in theatre. It can be true, but loving theatre doesn't mean they want a career on stage - there's a whole industry generating about £10bn for the UK with many elements on and off the stage. But, theatre can create many worlds and your child may decide one of them is where their future lies, such as in politics, academics, journalism, science, business, etc.
3. It’s A Healthy Escape From The Real World
A change is as good as a break, and we all love a bit of escapism. It's why we have so many distractions from life. Theatre, as a live art form with a unique atmosphere, can help us escape in a way books, TV, films, YouTube and social media can't.
4. Theatre Teaches Us Important Lessons
Theatre is always about something and we can learn from that. It can teach us about history, politics, relationships, religion, emotions and more. We learn through play, observation, by making connections, and as an audience we are immersed in the world created on stage and we emotionally engage with the characters on stage on their journey - we learn, grow, evolve, laugh, cry and discover with them, no matter what age we are.
5. Your child will develop an appreciation for the arts
The arts are a huge part of our culture and they define our society. the UK is arguably the world leader for the arts and exposure to the performing arts teaches young people empathy, acceptance of new things, to embrace differences and not to fear them. The arts can help them make sense of the world.
6. It Can Help Your Child “unplug” From Technology
Which would you prefer - a child obsessed with theatre or Twitter? Musicals or Minecraft? Social media and technology have their place, certainly, but a variety of interests and actual human interaction has great value when creating a whole person.
7. It Promotes Many Life Skills
Having come to drama and theatre later than many, I can testify that I am more confident, creative, literate, have a better memory, and work better as a team than I ever did before. These skills developed quickly and I can only imagine how much better I would have been at school had I been able to develop these skills earlier. I've seen students develop these skills in just a short workshop, so can testify that regular engagement with drama can fundamentally develop essential life skills in children and young people which can only make them stronger in adult life.
8. Anyone Can Enjoy It
We all love a good story, no matter how old we are, and good theatre is good theatre at any age. At just 4 years old my son sat through a two and a half-hour production of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Likewise, I've seen parents more engaged in a performance of The Gruffalo than their kids. Whether it is the bright colours, the music, lyrics, slap-stick comedy or the dialogue, there is usually something for everybody.
9. The Community Is Wonderful
The whole community within theatre, not just the actors, but the creatives, the crew, the administration all love the theatre because of the caring, creative and welcoming community of the theatre. To be a part of that makes you caring, creative and welcoming too. Surely that is a positive thing for any child.
10. Performing Is Fun!
Performing is playing, and playing is fun. You get to say and do stuff you can never do in real life, hold an audience in the palm of your hand, and the thrill of applause is amazing.