Empowered Voices: The Life and Times of Theatre Kids

By Justin Shaw
Originally submitted for YMM Parent Magazine

In February 2018, Emma Gonzalez captured the world’s attention when she spoke out about a recent mass-shooting at a school in Florida. Her words were spoke with clarity, passion, and conviction as a crowd of people stood behind her and supported her every word. Her words reached a global audience, going viral overnight. The world was listening.

Who is Emma Gonzalez?

She is a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. And she’s a theatre kid.

Being comfortable being seen by millions of people and being outspoken has nothing to do with being “dramatic.” Well, perhaps a little – but the two virtues are not mutually exclusive.

“A theatre class is more than an artistic distraction for students,” writes Stephen Sachs, of American Theatre. “It can serve as a lightning rod of empowerment for young people. For many teens, the experience of standing in a spotlight on a stage in a play or musical, galvanizing the attention of adults in the audience, is the first time a young person discovers that what they say matters. They learn that words have power, that their voice can move and inspire others.”

Youth Production “A Kidsummer Night’s Dream” directed by Justin Shaw, Fort McMurray 2018.

Youth Production “A Kidsummer Night’s Dream” directed by Justin Shaw, Fort McMurray 2018.

What does that mean for the rest of the world? Will all drama students find themselves in front of a camera campaigning to save Western civilization? Or headlining Broadway shows next in line for a Tony award? Realistically – probably not.

What a drama student will discover is that, with practice of their skills, they will have acquired a sense of empowerment that you may not be found in any other extracurriculars.

In a traditional theatre production, rehearsal takes place in the interest of refining a piece of theatre until it satisfies authenticity. In a theatre-based program for youth however – education is at stake. Basic theatre values are instilled in these programs that transcend the medium entirely. Virtues such as valuing your peers’ time by not being late for rehearsal, respecting stage managers and technicians with words like ‘thank you’ and ‘please’, being accountable to complete your work, and, perhaps most importantly, sharing your ideas, thoughts and creativity in the interest of working as a company.

Youth Production “Fantastic Mr Fox” directed by Michelle Thorne, 2017.

Youth Production “Fantastic Mr Fox” directed by Michelle Thorne, 2017.

While some programs are focused at creating a full-length production complete with costumes, props, and (hopefully) an audience, the heart of an educational theatre program for youth is to instill a sense of empowerment, and ownership of their craft. Whether that empowerment takes them to Broadway centre stage, in front of a camera before an audience of millions, or to, what is considered by many students to be the most painful form of punishment, giving a presentation in front of your class about something you wrote yourself – the growth is unmistakable.

Empowerment conquers fear.

A work of art may not change the world, but an artist might.

Theatre Just Because Fantastic Mr Fox

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