I spend a lot of time with playwrights, but I don’t have much experience with writing theater for young people. So I was really interested to see this article about World Theater for Children and Young People Day and why youth theater is essential. In particular, it’s essential because it teaches young people empathy:
“As my friend Bill English of San Francisco’s SF Playhouse says, theater is like a gym for empathy. It’s where we can go to build up the muscles of compassion, to practice listening and understanding and engaging with people that are not just like ourselves. We practice sitting down, paying attention and learning from other people’s actions. We practice caring.
Kids need this kind of practice even more than adults do. This is going to be their planet and they’ve got more time to apply that empathy and make a difference. Buddhist roshi Joan Halifax challenges us to actively and specifically teach children (and vote for presidents with) empathy. Why not take your child to the theater to do just that.”
Very true of theater and of art in general. Plays and books for young people provide a safe place to expand ideas and experience alternate ways of being.
A couple of other points I’d add: first, theater is very collaborative. Whereas I’m cool sitting at my desk, typing away on my own, playwrights are more often included on the production process. They work with actors, directors, and other theatrical artists to create a show. Theater can teach kids the importance of collaboration and invention the way other works of art might not be able to.
Second, children’s theater often encourages participation and playfulness. I think it’s fantastic to teach kids that they don’t have to feel self-conscious and that their voice can be heard. It can be exciting for kids to see adults having fun and being silly, too; it encourages the idea that you’re never too old to play.
Again, I don’t have much experience with theater for young people, so I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.