Kids Need Theatre (and grown-ups do too)

It was not my intention, but somehow my younger daughter has missed out on live theatre. Her big sis has seen The Lion King, Wicked, Peter and the StarcatcherNick Jr LIVE… She’s quite the cultured 4th grader. But I had never taken my kindergartener to anything because I am a terrible parent.

This weekend I redeemed myself.

Our family of four paid a visit to the Alley Theatre in downtown Houston to watch their production of Around the World in 80 Days. Five actors play all the characters as Phileas Fogg travels around the world to win a bet — this isn’t children’s theatre. But it was family-friendly theatre and a perfect first play for my almost 6 year-old.

Before the show started, the Alley Theatre Education Department hosted a “Bon Voyage” party to give the kids an idea of what they were about to see. Using only hats, their bodies, and their voices, two actors became 3-4 different characters each, all of whom were on a journey to several countries and planets. (The kids made the itinerary.) It was a great addition to the event because it gave the children a tangible lesson on how only a few actors can quickly create so many characters. They left the event with a passport, complete with photos.

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My theatre degree and experience probably makes me biased, but I feel that exposure to live theater is so important for the development of young children. Older children, too. And adults. OK — everyone.

I was in my first play when I was in second grade and I had absolutely no point of reference. I’d never seen a play. I was just following directions and having fun. I wasn’t in another play until high school. And it was terrible. Again, I had no point of reference.

It was also in high school that I saw my first “real” live theatre performance. I went on a trip with a friend of mine and we went to see Les Misérables. I had never heard of it. I had definitely never seen anything like that before. And I absolutely had no idea this was a real thing people could train to do and have a career in. I was 15 and I did not know that. Seriously.

Live theatre is interactive even if the audience isn’t required to say or do anything. Being in the same space as the performers engages an audience in a way watching a screen cannot. Witnessing stagecraft first hand brings a wonder and an awareness to the art, but also teaches children (and adults) to notice when someone tries to use theatrics in real life (and perhaps is less than honest about it).

Because live theatre engages an audience, those spectators often feel a connection to the players that causes them to consider their own human condition in ways they may not often stop and think to do. A theatre is a safe place to experience adventures, questionable life choices, and emotional epiphanies vicariously. It’s a place to see art come to life. The theatre is a forum where the impossible can become possible, or at least where our minds can be opened to explore what is possible.

As we were driving home, I asked everyone what they liked most about the play. My almost 10 year-old said, “I thought it was cool how they only used five actors to tell the story.” My husband added that he also liked how they made one little, empty stage into so many places using very few props and set pieces.

Never one to be left out of a conversation, my almost 6 year-old said, “That was really a really, really good show.” I think her answer was what I liked most.

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Many thanks to the kind folks at the Alley Theatre for treating my family and me to the show. If you’d like to take your family to see how Phileas Fogg travels around the world without leaving the theatre, Around the World in 80 Days is playing until April 3rd. You can read more about it here.

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