I have had countless encounters with parents over the years and discovered that many of them are misinformed about the purpose of youth theatre programs. To help clear things up, here are the best and the worst reasons for signing your child up for an extracurricular theatre program. I'll even make it into a game! Read the title of each section and then YOU can guess whether this is one of the BEST reasons or one of the WORST. The prize for getting 100% on this pop quiz is the knowledge that you are one smart Diva-Mom (or Diva-Dad).
I NEED SOMETHING FOR MY KID TO DO AFTER SCHOOL BECAUSE I WORK
Sigh. I totally understand this impulse. I was raised by a working mother who wasn't able to take me to piano lessons or soccer and if there had been an after school theatre program at my elementary school, I guarantee I would have been signed up in a heartbeat (of course, in my case that wouldn't have been a problem since I was DYING to be on stage at all times). The thing is, if your child has not expressed an interest in doing theatre, then putting them in an after school theatre program is a recipe for disaster. One of the most disheartening things for a youth theatre director is seeing a child in rehearsals who has zero interest in performing. They are miserable and don't want to put forth the effort to learn their lines or choreography which is incredibly frustrating for the rest of the cast and the staff. It's not their fault, of course. If I was forced to stay after school and be a Mathelete, I would be a useless member of that team and unable to contribute anything of value. In my experience, if a child isn't eager to be a part of a production, then they shouldn't be forced to participate. Best case scenario, they are a silent participant who manages to go unnoticed both on stage and off. Worst case scenario, they lie to their directors and say they are dropping out of the show then spend every afternoon walking around campus searching for Pokemon while their mother thinks they're safe at rehearsal. And of course the latter example is the reason we ask for official parental notice when a child decides to drop out of a production.
MY KID IS SHY AND NEEDS TO GET OUT OF HER SHELL
If your child is willing to give acting a try, it can be a wonderful way to get over some of her fears. Performing in a chorus can feel empowering if you're surrounded by your peers all working together to tell a story. She will be encouraged to use her voice and her body in creative ways and be placed in an environment where play is encouraged and failure is not a bad thing. If you and your child decide that performing in a play sounds like a fun activity to try, make sure you start with a very low-key production. A school play is always a great option since many times every child who signs up is cast in the show. If their school show does not accept everyone who auditions, then I recommend looking for a youth program at a local theatre. They generally charge to participate in the show but they often accept everyone who auditions and many of them focus on the process versus the product, meaning they will be having fun in rehearsals and there won't be too much pressure for perfection come performance time.
MY CHILD IS A STAR AND I WANT HIM TO BECOME FAMOUS
There isn't an actor among us who hasn't practiced their acceptance speech or dreamed of a big Hollywood mansion or final Broadway bow. But getting into performance with the goal of fame and fortune is never a good idea. First of all, acting is NOT a highly lucrative business for 99% of us. Most actors spend a great deal of time waiting tables, teaching voice lessons, or driving for Uber to help pay the bills while we attend audition after audition, hoping for a paying gig. Additionally, attaching such a lofty goal as 'fame' or 'fortune' to your child's theatrical experience can place a HUGE amount of pressure on them. If you sign them up for a class or production and tell them that this is the first step towards getting their own Disney sitcom, well, you're most likely setting them up for big fat failure. And finally, fame and fortune is something that happens to some individuals on the road to a successful acting career - it should never be the end game.
Plus, if you think about all of the 'famous' child stars and how much 'happiness' they've cumulatively enjoyed, perhaps it's not in the best interest of your child to blindly pursue fame and glory in the hopes of finding 'success' in the acting world.
MY CHILD IS A STAR AND I WANT HER TO GET MORE TRAINING
Did you catch the minor distinction between this reason and the previous one? If you've got aspirations for big professional success, by all means sign up for a local youth theatre production as it will be a fun way for your child to hone their performance skills. Maybe you ARE raising the next Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) and she will go on to enjoy great success! But remember, it takes a village to help a young actor find commercial success in Hollywood or on Broadway. If you're actually serious about going down this road, moving to L.A. or N.Y.C. is a must. And forget having your own life/job. Taking your child on auditions is a full time gig. And watching your child get rejected dozens and dozens of times is heartbreaking. So yes, I fully encourage parents who are contemplating pursuing a professional acting career for their child to first find success on a local level. Enroll your diva in classes, audition for a professional theatre company, perhaps even find an agent. Make sure you BOTH have the stamina to chase this dream.
I WANT SOMETHING THAT WILL LOOK GOOD ON HER COLLEGE RESUME
Colleges definitely like a well rounded individual and if your child has been consumed with basketball or the cello for their whole life, then it might be extremely appealing to sign them up to audition for the school play their junior year of high school so they're able to tick that box on their applications the following year. And we always love having new recruits (especially if your child is a tenor who can move!) but I encourage you to sit down and have a long chat with your child about what they hope to get from this experience. A lot of effort goes into a theatrical production and if your child is open to being a part of the team, then there are LOTS of ways for them to help out, both on and off stage. Please don't sign up your child with the expectation that they will get the lead and be able to add that little nugget to their list of conquests. But if they are truly open to a new experience that will force them out of their shell, then by all means, join the (drama) club!
NOT THE WORST BUT PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
I WANT MY CHILD TO LEARN RESPONSIBILITY AND SELF DISCIPLINE
Well, welcome to the theatre, friend! A place where we value hard work and personal growth! In an acting class or theatrical production, your child will be responsible for learning lines (and maybe songs and choreography), they will be required to show up on time, work on their own time, sacrifice events on their social calendar to attend rehearsals and performances, and become a member of a team that supports one another and works together to do their very best work. I cannot stress this enough - if you want your kid to be ready for college or the 'real world', then sign them up for a show!
I DID THEATRE IN HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE/PROFESSIONALLY
Good for you! You should do more theatre - it sounds like you really loved it. Here's a list of the community theatre productions in your area...
Seriously though, most of the children of actors that I've worked with are doing theatre for one of two reasons: to please their parent (but they'd really rather be playing video games) or because they really want to (and they're miserable because there parent keeps giving them notes and placing WAY too much pressure on them). As an actor and a mom, if my daughter tells me that she wants to perform, then I'll do whatever I can to make that happen. And the best way I can think of to support her is to hand over her training to someone else and buy tickets for every opening night. I have seen so much tension between parents and their children because of the hopes and dreams that the parent has transferred to their child. I totally get it! Seeing your child find success in a field that you love must be incredibly exciting! But for the sake of their dreams (and your relationship) let this dream be their dream and leave yours out of it.
I DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT THEATRE, BUT MY KID WON'T STOP SINGING AND DANCING...
This is one my favorite reasons that a parent will sign up their child for a class or production. They have seen true passion for performing in their child and want to find a channel for their diva to express this passion. It's awesome! Parents who take the lead from their kids and seek out places for them to foster these dreams are amazing. They might not share in their child's passion but I guarantee you, the first time they see their child mopping up the floor in "It's a Hard Knock Life", we've converted them to a theatre lover for life.
I WANT MY KID TO PLAY THE LEAD
Join the club. If I had a dollar for every parent who was hoping for a leading role for their child...well, I still couldn't afford to purchase a house in this market but I could probably go out for a really nice steak dinner!
If you have any hidden (or not so hidden) desires for your child to be the leading role in any production, please stop and examine the reasons why. If you are picking up on the not so subtle hints that your child is dropping (I just have to get Annie or I'll die!) then of course you want your child to realize their dreams. But if you're starting to place importance on the size of the role your child gets because it's YOUR dream, well, you might want to take a step back and reassess. Remember, it's not about the role, it's about the experience. And you as the parent need to be the one to reenforce that idea to your child. It's important to go into every production with the goal of having fun and growing as a performer. I understand that if your child begins to be cast in leading roles , it's easy to start to anticipate that this will be the case for all productions. Again, resist this thought! It's ALWAYS about the opportunity to grow and have fun. Because if your child is truly interested in pursuing acting as a career, there are going to be a LOT of ensemble parts in their future. You need to let them know that their value to you does not depend on the size of the part that they play. They ALWAYS have the leading role in your life.
The basic rule of thumb is to always follow your child's lead when it comes to the world of acting. If they are telling you that they want to pursue it on any level, then by all means, get involved to whatever level you both feel comfortable. But always take your cues from you own little Diva.
Until next time, DREAM BIG!