Tag Archives: children

masks tya

Theatre for Young Audiences: An Enchanting Genre

CC0 License https://pixabay.com/en/festival-mass-kid-994132/Children’s Theatre gets a bad rap. It isn’t just productions of Annie, cast with future child stars, or Shrek, performed by a company of 12 year olds. People say, “It’s for children; adults just have to sit through it.” Or, even worse, some think it’s a fluff genre, with no substance. It’s as if a play for children doesn’t merit the same artistic credibility as a play for adults. Glitter, polka dots, and silly songs, can’t compare to Brecht, Stoppard, and Mamet.

These misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) is making waves, breaking molds, and giving artists endless creative opportunities fostering the future of theatre.

For Performers:

How often do you get the opportunity to personify a crayon? How about playing a ladybug? My guess is, not very often. But in the wonderful world of TYA, wacky, strange, and thoughtful roles exist in every production. There are no boring bit parts. The work is hard, but it’s worth it. Every role matters, and the audience will make sure you know that.

Kids are the toughest critics. They see the joy and truth in the world the rest of us have forgotten. There is no dumbing down of scripts for TYA—audiences are young, but sophisticated. They don’t laugh when adults laugh. They sense actors emotions, and they know when performers aren’t giving 100% to their character. Acting for an audience of K-12 gives actors a thicker skin, while landing a special level of celebrity status. YOU are the infamous Fancy Nancy, or Pippi Longstocking, or Frog and Toad those children have spent so much time reading about, dressing up as, or dreaming to meet someday. You’ve brought their fantasies to life in front of them, no TV set required. That, my friends, is magical.

Photo Credit: Hanay
Photo Credit: Hanay

For Lovers of New Work:

Children’s publishing never has a dry spell. More picture books, chapter books, and epic rhyming poems take the page every year, ready for theater adaptation. Age-appropriate adaptations based on the classics is over—all the cool books become plays now. Nothing boring, nothing you wouldn’t want to watch yourself. Plays for children are no longer, strictly, plays for children. They are as smart and insightful as the books they are based on. Fly Guy, the story of a boy and his fly best friend; Fancy Nancy, the girl that loves to dress fancy; and the crazy adventures of Ivy and Bean are nothing like the stories that used to take the stage.

Authors are optioning their book rights to individual theatres or group of theatres, with plans to develop, write, and coproduce world premieres. We’re talking cutting-edge theatre about flies, spies, buddies, and bullies. This not only gives playwrights and directors the opportunity to develop new work, but it also gives designers the opportunity to be the first to create these characters and their environments. The rate at which TYA new works are being made today is staggering in comparison to the number of plays and musicals written for adults that hardly see a workshop let alone an actual stage. TYA new works are getting produced, period.

For Artists Looking to Make a Difference:

For many children, their first TYA experience is their first theatrical experience. Some parents might not be theatregoers themselves, but want to seek out enriching family experiences. The chances of those children and those adults seeing more theatre after their TYA introduction is huge. Future theatre audiences are cultivated during each performance. Early exposure to the arts sparks creativity in future innovators of the world. The children are our future, and TYA gives them an early introduction to the arts.

For children whose might not be able to afford shows, many TYA companies hold student matinees. Teachers have the opportunity to expand curriculum—focusing lessons around a play’s original book and themes, before and after seeing the show. Kids experience theatre etiquette and art appreciation, making connections between their lives, their books, and an art form they otherwise might never experience.masks tya: CC0 https://pixabay.com/en/festival-mass-kid-994132/

For Fun-Seeking Artists:

At the end of the day, we play pretend for a living. But, sometimes it’s nice to know the playing doesn’t have to be so serious. Developing, producing, and performing works for children challenges in the adult brain. Will this musical number hold the attention of a five year old? If not, how can we make it? Does this costume read as cat, but also give the audience a human to identify with? Is this lighting too scary? Can we get a grant to fund more scholarship field trips? These are questions asked every day in the world of TYA. The work is still hard, but after every performance, the entryway fills with dozens of excited little voices, ready to meet their favorite characters, read more stories, and eventually see more plays.

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How Can You Have a Family and Work in the Arts?

Family with car in natureAn actor asked me, “Do you have children?” I shook my head, wide-eyed. “No. I’m only twenty-seven!” I responded, as if he asked if I were a home owner. After saying it, I realized, I am nearly thirty. Plenty of my peers have children, so I could, too, except I work in the arts. It’s just not that simple in this line of work. Whether you’re doing a community production of Into the Woods or a regional production of King Lear, the thought has probably crossed your mind: How can you have a family when you work in theatre arts?

What I love about this industry is its ability to allow you to grow up at your own pace. We literally play pretend for a living. Age becomes less important. Five-year plans, 401k’s, worries about the future wind up on the back burner because you are so busy living the art you’re making, that the reality of the future is less present. I’m not saying this is a good thing—everyone should start saving for retirement. Even if you live in a minuscule two-bedroom apartment with three people and a cat, the future will arrive before you’re ready. But, in theatre, we’re given a little more time to relish the now, enjoy the art, and “adult” at a more leisurely pace. Maybe, this is why we’re not all as focused on starting a family.

In my short career, I’ve seen several variations of the “theatre family.” The most commonplace is one spouse in theatre, the other with a more lucrative career. This provides financial stability, as well as a parent more permanently located to raise children. This, however, requires meeting a spouse outside of the arts, which can be a challenge, when your whole life is your art.

A more common family scenario is two artists, or artist and non-artist who only have pets. The choice to have children or not is made for a myriad of reasons, but the time and financial responsibility isn’t always manageable in theatre. Pet families are awesome—their dogs and cats are their children, and their work is their passion.

Sometimes, there are single parents in theater. They are demigods often holding staff jobs or professorships to provide stability in an otherwise unstable life. Their children are, in part, raised by their theatre community, watching over the child during tech rehearsal or auditions.

The theatre family I’m most familiar with is two artists raising children in theatre. Often they’re both working constantly, and have teaching jobs to keep their family afloat. Again, their community pitches in to babysit. Theatre children are some of the most wonderful and well rounded kids I’ve known. They spend their formative years in rehearsals, surrounded by adults. Usually, they are wicked smart, witty, and thoughtful. They understand Shakespeare years before most of us did. And many of them go into the arts. In these families, the parents are raising the future generation of theatre.

happy young family have fun on beach

For many of us, a theatre family is the dream. I was raised by a pair of ceramists; I’m no stranger to the struggles of raising children in the arts. My friends got actual Barbie Dreamhouses; I had to build my own. Now, as a professional who builds all sorts of odd things, I’m grateful my parents are artists. I didn’t appreciate it when I was twelve, but I sure do now. They are why I’ve always assumed I’d find a spouse in theatre. Some artists are attracted to other artists. Or, some artists only meet other artists. But, as I’ve reached the point in which my peers have families, the importance of stability has started to outweigh a partner’s mutual love of theatre.

After he asked if I had children, the actor said, “Are you telling me if you did, you wouldn’t work here?” I had to think long and hard about my answer. There are so many factors to consider. Some theatre families have the benefit of old money or living in a family home. Others live in affordable parts of the country. Many of them are incredibly good with their finances. Most of them will never retire. They probably won’t be able to send their children to private school on their own. Not even all of them will be home owners, or take family vacations. This is a reality I know all too well. But, like so many challenges we are faced with as artists on a daily basis, the answer to “How can you have a family in theatre?” is pretty simple—you figure it out.


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