Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Three Kids and a Prancing, Dancing Cat

This weekend my sister and I gathered up some children and headed over to - you guessed it - THE YOUNG AUDITORIUM - to see the children's musical Seussical. (Don't worry, they were our children. It's not like we just grabbed at the supermarket.)

Alex, age 7, did not especially feel like going. I thought maybe he was going to say he was far too cool to sit around watching a prancing cat, but his honest explanation included the fact that there was no popcorn at the theater. You just had to sit there. And, uh, watch. 

I could totally see his point, because one time, I was craving movie theater popcorn so bad I insisted (perhaps also forced by threat of violence) that we please just stop and grab a large bag to go, sans actual movie watching. Turns out you can totally do that in most movie theaters around here, except for the bitty one behind Toys R Us where they force a ticket purchase before you can even enter the building, which I think is total bunk because that movie theater popcorn is like crack and you don't want to see a crack addict withdrawing. It can get ugly. They make that popcorn addicting so you keep coming back. And it totally works

Personally, I was anticipating slight personal boredom during the show because I am an adult but I was super stoked to find out that Cat in the Hat is cah-RAZY fun! I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. It kind of reminded me of the first time I saw Toy Story and I was all bah! That was adult humor! Awesome! 

I was also worried about bored, fidgety kids. Which I totally shouldn't have worried about at all because Shannon drugged her kids before the show. I'm kidding. But really that's the only explanation I've got because that entire auditorium was full of fidgets except the kids I was sitting next to. At one point I almost leaned over to Shannon and suggested she take their pulses.... they just sat there, mesmerized by the dancing and singing and bright colors....

Taking kids to the theater is somewhat risky. Television and movies are full of camera angles and zooming in - thousands and thousands of hit-you-over-the-head hints of where you ought to be looking. With a live presentation you only get one angle. One view at the same depth. That's it. I wondered if the kids would keep up; if they would be able to tell where to look during a scene where everyone is on stage, but the main action is only in one area.

And then it dawned on me that THAT is exactly why live performance is so utterly cool. It's different from everyone's individual point of view. It's different no matter how many times you see a show because the lines might be delivered different, or forgotten, or stepped on, or an action added after an actor says, "you know what would be good here; what if we tried______."

Live theater is different and it respects that fact. And it respects you, the audience member. It says, "I believe in you enough to know that you are going to get this." It's not "gee, we've got this audience, but they really need help understanding the movement here, so let's pan out and then cut to a close up of Horton the Elephant."

Live theater allows kids to sit and become immersed in a make believe world that is playing out before them and kids totally learn from that. Ever come across the kid who has spent every waking moment with one person? They creepily mimic only those actions they've been allowed to see. "Oh, she has all your mannerisms!"  No, duh. You're the only example of action she's ever seen. She had no choice. That is, until the child comes across someone else that does it different. Suddenly, their world opens up in leaps and bounds just by being exposed to others; especially watching someone else play make believe.

I wish all kids could go to the theater. But, let's be honest, the cost of theater tickets is usually more than the cost of a matinee movie. For the cost of a live theater ticket you could get a movie ticket and popcorn. (And we all know it's really about the popcorn.) That's why I get so excited when I see theaters like the Young Auditorium opening up their doors to a daytime performance for area schools. I suppose there are some parents who feel it's a waste of a field trip, but then I'd question those parents to see if they ever took their kids to the theater and watched as their minds took in the movement on stage; saw how a person suddenly became a bird, or an elephant or a very small shirker named JoJo, simply by the way they held their bodies, or walked across the stage, or how they chose to deliver their lines, and through no computer animation whatsoever... 

Maybe that's what I'll do when I grow up. Or win the lottery. Find a way to expose as many children as I can to the theater. Find a way to encourage parents to take their children to more live performance activities and less computer/technological media zone out blitzes with their children.

Or, maybe tap in my love for acting and find a way to tour the country entertaining kids... can you see me as Amazing Mayze? Or, perhaps the dowdy Gertrude McFuzz is more a role meant for me....


Chiconky said...

I'm totally inspired. You're right, there aren't a ton of good role models for imagination and play.

HeatherB said...

We actually had people come once a week to our elementary school during lunch time that would act out different books and stories. One time it was Shel Silverstein poetry, another time it was Horton Hatches an Egg. It made the words on the pages came alive SO much more and made non-interested readers active readers.

That would be cool - to start something like that (so there wouldn't be added expense to the parents or the schools).

Becca said...

I love this! I took Charlie to see the orchestra at my university when he was newly three. People looked at us like I was crazy, but when the music started he was totally enraptured. I asked him if he liked it and he breathed "It's so beautiful!" Performing arts need to stay in schools!

Phoenix Rising said...

@Chiconky: does this mean you'll be checking out some live theater hotspots in your new corner of the world?

@HeatherB: THAT. IS. AWESOME! What a fabulous volunteer program it would be.... Girl, you've got my wheels TURNING!

@Becca: I knew you'd be one of the parents who "get" how important live performances of ALL venues are. I'm lucky enough to live near the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and cannot say enough good things about the performance options they bring to the community each year. There is always something for everyone! And three is NOT too early! Not at all. :)