How Children’s Theatre Can Help Change the World
Anthony J. Piccione
- OnStage Connecticut Columnist
For many years, people have spoken about how theatre could potentially be a force for major social change and progress in the world. Through the message enforced through the power of performance, the hope is that audiences will be inspired to go and do something to make a difference themselves, after having seen the show.
However, the majority of the theatergoers that have traditionally attended these have been adults. The reason I say this is because the majority of them have – in all likelihood – already made up their mind on most of the social issues that such theatre tends to address. Many of them may go to see such shows in the first place because of their passion for a certain issue that the play might refer to. If they are passionate about the issue already, it’s safe to assume that most of them have already made up their mind on it.
Therefore, I believe that it’s worth thinking about the possibility of marketing theatre with important social messages – some of which could be highly consequential to the entire planet – to a much younger audience.
Consider this: On many occasions, people involved in children’s theatre have tried to make their shows both highly educational, while also being a fun experience. The idea is that when watching the show, kids are both laughing and having a good time and are learning more about a subject that they previously might not have known much about.
It’s worth asking what subjects the kids ought to be learning about from children’s theatre. Sure, helping kids learn something new about math, science or history while also having fun may be a good goal for artists involved in children’s theatre.
Yet it’s also worth remembering this, and there is no other way to say it: The reality is that we live in interesting times, and there are many issues that today’s generation and the next generation are going to have to face, if we want to have a positive and optimistic future. If we expect future generations to know and care about these issues, shouldn’t we – as artists involved in theatre – be doing what we can to make sure they know the truth about the world they will inherit?
As long as you can explain these issues in a way that is understandable for younger audiences, I believe that such issues – especially ones that are arguably issues of morality rather than just politics, such as immigration, climate change and LGBTQ rights – could easily be incorporated into a children’s theatre experience that is both enjoyable and educational for younger audience members.
I understand that this may be a controversial position – especially among some parents and educators – for me to be taking. To those people, I say this: Believe me when I say that I do understand the views and concerns that you might not want children exposed to such issues at a young age. However, kids are going to find out about these issues at one point or another. One could argue that it’s not too different from how they eventually find out that their parents lied to them about Santa and the Tooth Fairy.
If you care strongly about these important social issues – many of which are arguably issues of morality, as well – then you should be supportive of theatre that tries to educate children on these issues, and why they matter. Even if you disagree with any message that might come from the play, you should still allow your kids to see it, and then feel free to explain to them why you believe that message might be wrong, and let your kids grow up and decide for themselves what they think about the play they once saw as a child.
Either way, those involved in the development and production of such plays ought to keep this idea in mind. I’ve spoken in past columns about the need to think harder about what you can accomplish in theatre that you can’t necessarily accomplish with other art forms. This could potentially be one of those ideas where there is enough room for artists to create something unique, entertaining and thought-provoking that is unlike anything you might find in film, music or painting…and geared toward the people who will ultimately matter most to our world’s future: the youngest generations of theatergoers today.
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).