Musical theater has the power to uplift and inspire me, especially when it’s performed by children. I loved seeing my niece and nephew and other children singing, dancing and acting in a Phoenix Theatre Summer Camp performance recently.
Not only was I proud to see my precious niece and nephew confidently sing solos and duets from the musical “Matilda,” but I was thrilled to support the performing arts, which I believe boost confidence and self-esteem in kids and teens. Performing in front of an audience gives children the skills to succeed in the real world.
I didn’t take theater classes as a child, but I did dance in many recitals and concerts as a kid. As an adult, a few years ago I took some theater classes for fun and performed monologues in front of family, friends and talent agents. I know how nerve-wracking it can be waiting in the wings, hoping to remember choreography or lines before hitting a stage with bright lights, watchful eyes and no safety net.
Musical theater and other creative forms of expression force performers to step outside of their everyday comfort zone to project words and dance confidently. People, who are shy, as I was as a child, learn to find their bold side and project a self-assured air even if they’re shaking and afraid.
Hiccups occur on stage often. Actors forget lines, costumes get tangled up, performers move to the wrong area on stage, but the show must go on. My nephew said his group of young actors didn’t know until the day of the performance whether they would be singing one of the songs because their instructors weren’t sure if they knew it well enough. But they nailed it!
Excitement was in the air as the lights dimmed and my niece and nephew, along with about 30 other children, took the stage beaming and energetically singing a humorous song “Naughty” about the reasons kids should misbehave sometimes. Audience members laughed, beamed and tried to capture the fun, lively atmosphere on stage with their cell phone cameras.
I was impressed with how the children learned so many lines, dance moves and songs in just a week. Not surprisingly, studies show learning to perform on stage helps youths academically. The American Alliance for Theatre and Education says students involved in drama performance classes or experiences did better than non-arts students on the 2005 SAT by an average of 65 points in the verbal section and 34 points in the math part of the test.
Many studies have shown students who participate in drama often show better reading comprehension, earn better attendance records, and stay generally engaged in school more than their non-arts peers.
I know from my youth experiences as a dancer, spending two to four nights after school going to dance classes forced me to stay on top of my homework. I knew having the chance to pursue extracurricular activities I loved was a privilege and I had to focus on my academic assignments and earn decent grades or I wouldn’t be allowed to keep dancing. Simply put, having less time after school to do homework, meant I had to focus more and not waste minutes procrastinating when I tackled my studies.
Besides the academic benefits, performing arts also help boost children’s self-esteem. Cheryl Lock, with ArtsEdge.org wrote in an article for “PBS Parents” participating in arts-related activities helps improve kids’ self-image. I know any time I faced my fears and performed complicated steps as a teen or delivered humorous or dramatic lines in front of an audience, I felt a high unmatched by anything else.
Knowing I could throw myself into a stressful situation and swim, rather than sink, gave me more confidence. I also bonded with other performers, who were in the trenches with me, forming friendships with people I might not have crossed paths with otherwise.
When I hugged my niece and nephew after their Phoenix Theatre camp show, I could tell they felt the same performance buzz and pride in their accomplishments I had in the past. Other families left the theater with smiles on their faces, talking animatedly about the experience. I don’t know if my niece and nephew will continue taking musical theater classes when they get older or even seek out careers in the arts, but if they’re anything like me, the camp will help them happily pursue their passions, create precious memories and launch them into adulthood with confidence and the ability to tackle any challenges.