A different March 20 holiday, though, lived up to its expectations: on World Theater for Children and Young People Day, the Maiden received news of a callback audition for Sound of Music.
And while we wait for the weekend–and then for the final casting decisions–I’ll have ample time to ponder theater, kids, and why it all matters enough to actually have a day of its very own.
It’s no secret: the world is a mess. And with all the angry political arguments, hatred among family, friends, races, and nations, and untenable and dangerous living conditions across the country and around the world, the arts can easily get pushed to the side as unimportant. Non-essential. A waste.
But I disagree.
Theater uplifts and renews us as a community. As I’ve written before: “In a time when the realities of life stress us, scare us, or hurt us, the arts give us a brief escape and fill us with a renewed sense of the magic of life.” It gives us hope–and an example of a community of many talents coming together to make something great.
Better still, it makes us better people as individuals. The local theater posted this wonderful Huffington Post article, which refers to theater as a “gym of empathy”–the place where we get to train to be empathy champions. I love this concept. In theater, we are drawn into the story in a relationship no film or television show can duplicate. Whether it’s a “participatory” show or not, the audience plays a role that’s right up there with the stagehands, the costumers, the artists, and heck, even the actors. They’re part of the story. The actors and all the others make the action and set the mood. It’s up to the audience to create the empathy.
And it’s even more valuable for the actors themselves. Can you take on the role of someone in a different social situation than you–and remain untouched? If the Maiden gets the chance to play Gretel von Trapp, isn’t she going to have her heart pulled a bit for real little girls who’ve lost their mommies? Heck, she might even appreciate her own mom a bit more. I can live with that.
Or maybe she’ll have a bit more understanding of kids who stand in danger of losing their families to invaders. Something that, tragically, hundreds of thousands of kids face every single day.
Empathy–the idea of understanding and caring about another’s plight–is something that receives little press but is more important than ever. Compassion, mercy, understanding, even good table manners are all grounded in empathy, but it’s not just about being “nice” or even considerate.
It’s about being human.
Is it just coincidental that as funds to the arts are whittled away in favor of other, more “test-friendly” educational pursuits or in deference to “important” business demands, we’ve lost empathy as a society? Is it just coincidental that as fewer people flock to the theater in favor of the merciless glow of iPads, smartphones, flat screen TVs, and DS systems, we’re more and more insulated from one another? Is it just coincidental that as we continue to regard the arts as worthless, we start seeing people that way?
The theater arts are key to understanding ourselves, society, and our fellow human beings around the globe. World Theater for Children and Young People Day may have passed, but the opportunity hasn’t. Support your local theater production, whether by attending a performance or volunteering your time or skills. Let your kids give theater a try. Fight to get it in schools–and keep it there.
Empathy is part of what makes us alive. Let’s keep it from becoming that poor player that struts and frets its hour upon the stage and then is seen no more.