Well, it’s been a big week for all of us. I’m sure that good things happened, but for many people, some really terrible things happened too. The internet is aflame with opinion and conjecture, the mostly panicked and defensive responses to something that we cannot even begin to fathom. It’s very easy to have an opinion. It is much harder to look objectively at the roles we all play in the kind of society where an event like this can happen.
A mentor of mine, a youth theatre director for many years, often spoke about the importance of early involvement in theatre as a method for teaching children how to empathize. What is acting, after all, but learning to see from someone else’s perspective? Its a valuable lesson for anyone, and one that is becoming harder and harder to find.
I cannot think of any discipline that better equips young people with an appreciation of and empathy for each other. Not only in the roles they play, but the cast they work with and the lessons they learn, kids can be profoundly changed by engaging in theatre. Learning to be on time, to work with others, to listen, to speak, to have confidence, to adapt, can all be learned from playing Farm Hand #4 in Anne of Green Gables.
The impact is not difficult to see. A boy who was once a loner suddenly has a group of friends, a girl who doesn’t play sports like the rest of her class suddenly has a talent that she can share with others.
I was that kid. I’m sure many of you were that kid. We can think back fondly on our solo in the musical, or that time we starred in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe as the Wardrobe, but more than any single show, we were connected to something, we had people to go to and rely on. We cared about them and they cared about us.
I say the same things over and over. Theatre can save the world! Theatre teaches you everything you need to know! And you may think I’m ridiculous.
But considering the events of this week, the importance of teaching empathy to our young people, whatever the method, is something that we can probably all agree on.
About the Author: Jen Davis is a stranger in a strange land. Following a life of wandering and re-location(where am i? WHO AM I?) she made a decisive (drunken) decision to forsake all things holy and move to Southern California. She recently received her BA in Theatre while narrowly avoiding a minor in philosophy. Jen has staged plays, mimes, sword fights, and cakewalks throughout the Pacific Northwest, most recently as Associate Artistic Director of Toy Boat Theatre Company. She seeks to revitalize and re-establish the theatre as a necessary part of American life through producing, writing, and generally crying out to anyone who will listen. Her marketable skills include learning to juggle, baking, and persistence.