In true theater fashion, the powers-that-be behind student productions quickly came up with ways to save theater programs. Music Theater International and Broadway Jr., two of the biggest names in school musical productions, made it possible for the first time to immediately get a license for schools and youth theater programs to live-stream their performances if they weren’t allowed large group gatherings/audiences. Beat by Beat Press released a virtual play aptly titled, “The Show Must Go On” which schools like The Anthony School produced in lieu of their canceled end of the year musical. Broadway actors opened up their social media pages and asked students whose productions were canceled to send in their solos, monologues and costumes to be shared with their followers.
So even though stages are bare, theater is still going strong because theater professionals know that many of the positive benefits the performing arts have on children are exactly what so many children need during this unprecedented time in history.
Participating in the arts can relieve anxiety. Creative play sparks action in the medial prefrontal cortex. According to Daniel J. Siegel, MD, engaging in creative play, improvisation and drama can help regulate our fear modulation, emotional balance and regulation and anxiety. Theater education that includes improvisation, creative problem solving and story-telling can help take the place of anxiety, dislocation and discomfort not only during a pandemic, but throughout a student’s school years.
Theater helps improve social interactions and relationships. Children need to learn how to have healthy, safe and emotionally supportive relationships. In a time where social distancing is necessary, it is imperative that kids find a way to connect. Theater, even when virtual, provides a time to learn the importance of working as an ensemble, navigating conflict and engaging in empathic discourse. Virtual theater can additionally allow students to have a larger role in directing, choreography and decision making.
There are so many ways for you and your children to enjoy the theater this summer, even in a time of physical distancing and limitations on group size. Time spent both participating in theater activities and being exposed to other shows and performances will help spark imagination, conversation, and hopefully deepen their appreciation for the stories of others.
Celebrate Broadway from your own living room. Check out BroadwayWorld.com. Here you will find links to live-streams of actual broadway shows, interviews with actors, directors, and choreographers, audition information, and more. Never has Broadway been so accessible!
Get a glimpse of what can be done with virtual theater. See amazing children’s theater performances and meet some Broadway greats, tune in to the iTheatrics Facebook page each Friday at 3 p.m. for #JTFridays! The iTheatrics Team (creative minds behind the Junior Theater Festival) are bringing us musical theatre education, live musicals, and special guests via Facebook Live. Watch some of their virtual productions like “The Big One-Oh”, “Flat Stanley” and more!
Attend a virtual drama camp. Many theaters, schools, and organizations are temporarily converting to online theater camps! Not only will this give kids a much needed creative outlet, but you can help ensure these theaters survive this hiatus and will be there once we can all be together again. To learn more about these opportunities, visit the following sites:
The Anthony School - Virtual Drama Camp (June 15-19)
Arkansas Arts Center's Summer Theater Academy
The Rep's Classes and Camps
Have your kids start their very own theater company at home:
- Encourage “One Day Play Days.” Kids can work alone, with a sibling or over FaceTime or Zoom with a friend to write a script, rehearse, and either perform live for family members, or record and share.
- Use stuffed animals, sock-puppets or dolls to re-create a well-known fairy tale, favorite book or act out an original script.
- Become a set designer and use some of those Amazon boxes, an old sheet or butcher paper to create a backdrop.
- Get out those old Halloween costumes or dress up clothes and let your child pretend to be a costume designer. Have them write a play based on some of those crazy outfits.
It’s hard to think of a time when our children need more connection, conversation, and creative expression. Theater programs, whether online, in-person, or in your own backyard, can allow your child to travel to other places, other times, other worlds — even when we can’t. The show must indeed go on.
Nicole Mann is the Play Director and a Middle School Language Arts teacher at The Anthony School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the Artistic Director at Second Presbytyrian Church. She has taught for almost 20 years and has directed over 75 productions. The Anthony School’s drama program has won international awards in acting and choreography at the Junior Theater Festival, and Nicole has been awarded the prestigious Freddie G. Director’s Fellowship from Music Theater International and Freddie Gershon. She enjoys hanging out with her two maltese puppies, her two daughters and singing Broadway show tunes loudly in her car.