Sixteen-year-old Kelsey Garcia is poised and articulate -- but she wasn't always so comfortable in her own skin. The Woodinville High School junior recalls seeking out an elective in drama in 7th grade -- and not just for the acting lessons. "I was sort-of shy and I was looking for something that might make me more confident and outgoing," says Garcia.
After years of drama classes, Garcia says that the benefits have been substantial. She says improvisation exercises have taught her to think quickly. Learning how to get into character has made her pay more attention to those around her and enhanced her ability to be empathetic. And she has enhanced her literacy skills from script analysis. Garcia says her drama classes have given her the ability to "be able to speak confidently and use great diction."
Garcia is one of several teenagers participating in the Seattle Repertory Theatre's education department's Emerging Critic program. Fran Kao is the Education Program Manager for the Rep. She says that the benefits of theatre training can go even deeper, making kids stronger in other activities they're already involved in, like sports and music. "The current trend in all sports training is to connect the body to the mind, to make the human body work as the perfectly balanced organism it has the potential to be," she says. "Theatre has always addressed the human as a whole. So a student who is participating in a theatre movement class will gain plenty of practical experience of movement, and, at the same time, learn how his or her focus is connected to their physical potential," says Kao, who is herself both an actor and an athlete.
Preparing for life
Adam Utley is an instructor for the Tacoma Actors Guild and several Tacoma private schools. His specialty is improvisational theatre. He believes theatre helps prepares tweens for a life in any number of professions and in life in general, because it helps them build better relationships. "Theatre is relationships. Theatre is stories. Human beings live both of these. Getting your child involved in a drama program will allow them to dissect and learn about those aspects of life that make us who we are," Utley says. "Human interaction is a necessity, and theatre taps into the heart of it all."
At Mercer Island's Youth Theatre Northwest, Artistic Director Mimi Katano says drama classes can also help tweens develop highly valuable skills in creative thinking and problem solving. "Both in our classes and productions, we have artists who will give the students set skills needed in acting, but, most importantly, skills to think outside of the box.
"In our year-long conservatory programs for students ages 10 to 18, students are exposed to variety of theatre exercises that allow them to take artistic risks, become critical thinkers and observers, and develop an eye for different styles of story-telling," Katano says. "One very specific example in the recent past was when we mounted the production of Peter Pan. We were unable to do any kind of rigging for the flying sequence, so we brought in a modern dance choreographer who trained the students to do aerial lifts to create an artistic solution."
The value of drama
Tina-Joy Herrick has been involved in theatre for more than twenty years, and has owned and operated DramaVentures since 1995. DramaVentures offers classes for kids ages two to 14 at various locations, including a program through the Kirkland and Redmond parks departments.
"Some parents don't understand the value of drama because they themselves were not exposed at young adults or children," Herrick says. "I try to reassure parents a class is not a life commitment but a time of self-exploration for these students. Acting takes hard work and self-discipline. I explain to parents that those things which may be viewed as theatre games are really building character, confidence and helping to develop their child's sense of self in a very safe environment."
Herrick says taking a drama class may actual help your tween get a job in the future. "Fifteen years from now, is the student going to play piano or a sport in a board room or job interview? Not likely, but they are going to have to speak clearly and confidently and feel at ease with whatever happens in the board room or job interview."
Kelsey Garcia sees a future for herself as either an actress or critic. She says regardless of whether she makes it to Broadway, studying drama has given her the great gift of a strong sense of self worth. She says, "I've accomplished something, and now I don't have to prove myself."
Kathleen F. Miller is a Sammamish-based freelance writer and mother of two.