Young people rule the world. Or at least they will one day. They are the future; isn’t that what we were always told growing up? Now the future is upon us and it’s our responsibility to mold and shape this world as best we can before passing on the torch.
But what are we doing to shape young people into torchbearers?
March 20th is World Theater for Children and Young People Day. In a fantastic article from the Huffington Post, Lauren Gunderson explains the importance of theatre in the lives of young people. “…so much of the toxicity in this world comes from a collective draining of empathy. We don’t understand each other, and we don’t want to. But theater invites us — no, forces us — to empathize,” Gunderson says. She continues later with, “If you take a child to the theater, not only will they practice empathy, they might also laugh uproariously, or come home singing about science, or want to know more about history, or tell you what happened at school today, or spend all dinner discussing music, or learn how to handle conflict, or start becoming future patrons of the arts.”
Wonderfully idealistic, isn’t it?
I said earlier that young people rule the world. And to some extent, I think that’s already true. Not just that they will, but that they already do. Our advertising is geared toward young people. So are our movies (thus the ever-important push to clean up borderline movies to score that PG-13 rating). And in the writing world, Young Adult fiction is KING (go check your bookshelf; I dare you NOT to find YA fiction sitting there). So what does all this mean?
It means young people are paying attention. They’re reading books. They’re watching movies. They’re watching TV shows and commercials, they are browsing the internet, they playing video games, THEY ARE READING THIS BLOG RIGHT NOW. And they (as are we) are missing a powerful opportunity to get closer to understanding the human beings with whom they coexist and with whom they will, one day, “rule the world.”
So why aren’t we creating more theatre for young people? REAL theatre, not half-hearted hokey sing-a-longs that make even 8-year-0lds roll their eyes into the back of their heads. Oh, I know, there is good theatre out there for young people…so where is it? And why aren’t we taking advantage of it by bringing the young people in our lives to see it? Is there really a lack of interest and opportunity? Or have we lost a sense of the true value art has?
Think of The Hunger Games. The movie is coming out this weekend (sidenote: SO EXCITED!) and countless parents will usher countless teens and pre-teens to countless showings across the country and likely, around the world. But how many of those parents will take their child to see a play this month? This year? EVER? Yes, you can argue cost and expense and availability and all that, but don’t tell me there aren’t viable opportunities not only to introduce children to the wonderful world of live theatre, but to involve them as well.
In northeastern PA alone there are countless opportunities. My husband and I are going this weekend to see the Abington Heights production of You Can’t Take It With You. We’re planning to see Dunmore High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast either this weekend or next, and Tunkhannock High School is soon putting on a production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. And what about local college theatre? We’ve seen excellent productions at the University of Scranton, Baptist Bible College, Wilkes University, and more. And none of those tickets cost more than a night at the movies.
My husband and I are constantly interested in getting teens and young adults involved in our shows. We perform Shakespeare in the Park to approximately 1,000 people every year, and many of those individuals are children and teenagers. Two of our cast members this year are under the age of 18. This summer I’ll be offering two playwriting workshops for 7-12 graders at the Abington Community Library. We are hoping to offer more workshops in the future, as well as a theatre production using only 18 and under actors.
If you read my blog regularly, I am likely preaching to the choir. You already love and value the arts as much as I do. But when was the last time we encouraged that love among the young people in our lives? And what other ways can we find to foster it?
On this day that celebrates theatre for children and young adults, think about what you can do – what we can do – to bring more young people into this amazing world of new understanding.