When I was in high school, I thought acting was as easy as reading a few lines on a page and moving on a stage according to directions. As I got older though, I have encountered multitudes of youths who vouch for the positive and constructive values of playing a role in any production.
The Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre (ACT) is perhaps the greatest example of children showing their acting chops in our community. The theater provides classes and camps for children of all ages, showing that talent truly does not have an age barrier.
For the youngest kids involved in plays, the skills garnered from acting are as simple as basic reading comprehension. Bailey Isenberg, director of “Pinocchio,” a play for kindergartners through fourth-graders, which is playing this summer at ACT, identifies vocabulary words that students learn from merely reading the script for the first time. Putting advanced words into context, she says, gives the words a real-life meaning for younger kids that then integrate them into their vocabulary. Academically speaking, the benefits of acting are the strongest in the youngest children.
A benefit that transcends age boundaries is the invaluable skill of existing in a social construct. Though both school and daily interactions allow for some social development, there is no greater opportunity for strengthening of communication skills than in a large group of your peers. The meshing of ages, for example in several of ACT’s summer and year-long programs, promote a mentor-mentee type of relationship, allowing the older child to teach stage lessons to his or her younger counterpart. These skills can be as simple as respect and listening to adults, and as complicated as learning how to exist socially among others. Younger children, I believe, learn the best by example. Allowing them to participate in any program that has responsible leaders at its helm can only ingrain qualities of a positive, working member of society.
In addition to the mentoring capacity of acting programs, participating in organizations such as ACT also augments social interaction. Communicating effectively with others is an essential skill for university and beyond, into the working world as an adult. Acting in large groups speeds up the development of this skill, allowing children to masterfully conduct themselves in any social situation. Nine-year-old Claire, who played Jiminy Cricket in the summer production of “Pinocchio” identified the social benefits of the play as the most enjoyable for her. That’s the best part about the benefit of learning how to exist socially among others: To children, working for that skill is both painless and immensely fun.
There is no doubt that ACT is no exception among organizations that facilitate acting in children. In our community, however, it is the most expansive example of the comprehensive benefits that can come from acting in plays. Even theater programs at Mountain Pointe or Desert Vista, or any in the local middle schools, create the same positive benefits as ACT does. We must recognize the tangible benefits that acting organizations provide for the community and for those who participate in them. Rather than brushing off ACT or any other thespian group, we should thank them for the contribution any organization makes to the community and for the developed and skilled individuals it introduces into society.
Anna Gunderson is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a freshman at Arizona State University.