When you sign up for an extracurricular activity, you are most likely hoping it will help your child develop or hone a certain skill. They play on the soccer team and become a better soccer player. They take cello lessons and become a better cellist. They participate in a theatrical production and become a better performer. That should be the goal. And for the most part, I think parents and students understand this. But sometimes I interact with parents and students who believe that because they are paying for this activity, they have some say about how the activity is managed.
No. You do not.
Let me break this down. To argue that because you're "paying good money" to participate in a youth theatre program, therefore your child "deserves a leading role" in our production is perhaps one of the most insulting and disheartening arguments that I experience. On one level, it belittles what I do, likening a leading role to a consumable product, that can be bartered or traded for, rather than something that is cast with great consideration for the nuances of character and chemistry as well as the story as a whole. When someone tells me that they want their child to have a specific role because they are paying for this production, I know that this parent has no real experience in the theatre world and doesn't understand the great deal of time and energy that go into writing a story, casting a production, or becoming a character. They can't understand what it means to be an actor and also believe that roles should be cast based on who can pay the most money. In addition to a gross misunderstanding about casting in general and the craft of acting specifically, this sentiment opens a doorway to a nightmare system in which the wealthiest families would be able to pay their way into leading roles, a concept that is completely absurd. After all, this is the theatre, not Washington D.C.
They say that you get what you pay for but when you pay for your child to participate in a youth theatre program, you are not paying for them to speak a specific amount of lines, sing a solo, or be a featured dancer. We don’t charge the families a certain price based on how much stage time their child can expect or how much downtime they may have in rehearsals. That’s just insane. But because I understand that some of these programs can carry a heavy price tag and we all want to know just where our money is going, here's what you ARE paying for:
1. You're paying for your child to be part of a production. Your child will get up on stage and perform. They will help to tell the story with the rest of their cast members. That's really all it means to be an actor. You help tell the story. You might tell the story by singing a song, or moving your body. You may help tell the story by dressing up like a tree and swaying to and fro when it starts to get windy in the woods. Everyone in the cast is important and when you sign your child up for a show, you are signing them up to participate.
2. You're paying for your child to be challenged. Every performer in the theatre world is asked to step outside their comfort zone in one way or another. They might have to wear a costume that makes them feel silly or kiss a boy on stage (ack! so scary!) and every time a child is challenged to try something new and they accept that challenge, they are building confidence. Confidence is so important, especially in adolescents, and when you enroll your child in a production, you are paying for your child to have opportunities where they develop the confidence to try new things.
3. You're paying for your child to be responsible. Every child in a production is responsible for themselves. They are the ones who step out on that stage and perform. They are the ones who must memorize their lines, their songs, and their choreography. During their production, they will be responsible for any number of things; as important as lifting someone safely above their heads during a dance number or as simple, yet seemingly impossible to remember, as bringing their scripts and dance shoes to rehearsal every day. Performers must be self-disciplined and the best of us have an incredible work ethic. Exposing your child to the theatre arts will allow them the opportunity to foster a responsibility for themselves that many children and adolescents do not possess.
4. You're paying for your child to create! I think one of the most important elements of any child's theatre experience is the creativity that goes into becoming a character. They will be asked to use their imaginations to transport themselves to another time or city. They will be encouraged to come up with backstories for their characters, to imagine what kind of lives they lead, to put themselves into their character's shoes, which helps foster an empathy for others that will help them become compassionate adults.
For me, it is impossible to put a price tag on my youth theatre experience. So much of who I am as a person was learned from what I experienced in rehearsals. My humor, my silliness, my work ethic, my open mind, my vulnerability, my courage - all of these were developed while in the theatre and to me, they are invaluable.
In addition to these incredible offerings, there are the basic show expenses that we pay for using the tuition from our students. These expenses include several thousand dollars for the rights to the musical, the rental of rehearsal space, the rental of performance space, the set design and construction, the costume design and construction, the lighting and sound equipment and design, the props, the wigs, advertising, paying the creative team, designers, musicians, and staff...let's just say it's not cheap. And when a parent complains about the price of the program because their child is "only in the chorus", well it cheapens all of the hard work that goes into a youth theatre production. So please, when you write that check to have your child participate in a youth theatre program, adjust your understanding about what you're actually paying for and I know you and your child will be happy as a result.
As always, DREAM BIG.