CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- My daughter played soccer at ages 7 and 8. From Celeste's time on the team she learned how to braid weeds, how to avoid drawing the coach's attention so as to not be put in the game, and how mandarin oranges should not be consumed shortly before spinning with friends on the field. (Several teammates and an innocent bystander learned that lesson as well.)
Still, I wanted her to experience being part of a team, and when a friend's son became involved with children's theater, I asked if she'd like to try it as well.
Unless around people she knows fairly well, Celeste is generally quiet and reserved, so I honestly didn't expect she'd get bit by the bug, but she was. Completely and totally hooked from the start.
And later this week, after five times in chorus-type parts, she has her first speaking role as an old widow in the Children's Theatre production of "Robin Hood."
She memorized her dozen or so lines almost immediately, but wouldn't let go of her script until the night they officially went "off book." (Her love of theater terminology can be trying at times. Me: "Have you seen my purse?" Her: "It's over there, stage right. [exasperated sigh] Oh, please. That's stage left.")
Like most of the parents whose children participate in these plays, I'm not hoping her time with this group will encourage her to choose acting as a profession. Not every child who plays football or soccer or golf is doing so because they believe they'll turn pro someday. It's the same with the kids on the stage, except with theater, those who are taller or stronger or faster don't have the advantage the way they do in sports, and with theater, the skills these children are learning will serve them well no matter what they do later in life.
When Celeste was younger and just learning to read, we'd practice by reading stories out loud. Like most kids her age, she was choppy and halting, until she started reading the dialogue parts of stories using different voices. The sillier she read those lines, the smoother her reading became.
Acting takes it one step further. The kids aren't only learning how to just deliver their lines, but to notice what's behind those words, what motivates that character to be doing and saying such things. I'm convinced that, in turn, helps develop sensitivity and understanding of the feelings of others.
Memorization skills also improve tremendously. Along with their lines, the children need to remember where they're supposed to be on stage, what kind of movements to make, how to recognize the line immediately preceding their own. There's timing to master, rehearsals to attend, and commitments to fulfill. They're part of a team and if they don't hold up their end, the entire production could suffer. It's a good kind of peer pressure. They can't let down their friends.
Even the most shy, reserved child will become less shy as their skills improve and their comfort level increases. They learn to interact with different people of a variety of ages and backgrounds. With sports, teams are generally made up of a small range of ages. Not so with children's theater, where casts can be filled with kids from ages 6 to 18.
I'm not an actress myself. I could only muster the courage to be onstage if my costume made me completely unrecognizable. My fear of public speaking has been stifling for me, so watching Celeste become accustomed to being on stage is such a relief, as it seems unlikely now that she'll develop the same inhibitions as me.
Acting is such a natural thing for children. They love to pretend. It gives them an opportunity to be someone else - someone brave or with magical powers or who robs from the rich to give to the poor. It encourages imagination and creativity.
Far more than braiding weeds.
For more information on the Children's Theatre of Charleston, visit CTOC.org or call 541-7222. Karin Fuller can be reached via e-mail at karinful...@cnpapers.com. Her columns can be accessed easily online through her blog at thegazz.com.