Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Snow Day

It's a snow day in Centre Wellington.

I was scheduled to go into the Grand today to run tech support for one of the Wellington County Museum's "Theatre for the Schools" shows but, alas, the busses were canceled, and with them a day's work. So instead I'm here, blogging about theatre for children.

Every year the Wellington County Museum brings in four professional touring children's shows. These shows feature professional adult actors and are produced by various companies, brought together under the auspices of Prologue, a performing arts organization that promotes the groups and gets their promotional material into the hands of teachers and others, who then book the actual shows. Most often these shows are performed in schools throughout Ontario, and sometimes individual companies embark on national or even internation tours. These companies may be the closest thing remaining to the "travelling players" of Shakespeare's Childhood.

In Centre Wellington, the Museum has an ingenious approach to booking these shows. Rather than taking a show to the schools, they bring the schools to the theatre. The actors love it: they get to perform in a real theatre for a change, instead of on the floor of a gymnasium. From an economic standpoint it costs the schools less: perhaps only one or two grades will benefit from a given show, so it's cheaper to just send them to the theatre than to bring a show in for only a small portion of the student body. The kids love the field trip, and most shows have a "theatre 101" component built in, so they learn how to behave in a theatre. The theatre gets the rental revenue for the day, which though it isn't much still contributes to the operating expenses.

While all this is undoubtedly very important I think that the greatest benefit of these shows are the effects they have on the kids themselves. Never mind what the politicians, teachers and naysayers in their ranting and raving have to say. Live performance does something to you, no matter what your age. It lifts you up, in makes you think, it reminds you that you are not alone in the world, that you are part of a larger community. And the better the show and closer to capacity the theatre the greater that effect can be. Most often these shows are very, very good, and most of the time they are sold out, with a full house of little people, their eyes glued to the action onstage; laughing, cheering, booing, screaming, engaging with the experience. You can't put a price on something like that. I can say with a fair degree of confidence that nearly every child in Centre Wellington has been exposed to live theatre at the Grand by the time they are in Grade Three.

So will that introduction translate into a lifetime love of the theatre? Probably not for all those kids, of course, but perhaps a few of them will catch the theatre bug. At the very least, though, here's what I hope: I hope that these shows will help to foster in the children of this community an understanding that live theatre is a normal, fun, perfectly acceptable part of life in Centre Wellington, something not just to be tolerated but to be celebrated.

You may think I'm being a bit overdramatic, but there are still too many grown men and women in Centre Wellington and beyond who cling to negative stereotypes about what theatre is and its positive impacts on the community. Some of those men and women occupy positions of considerable importance in this country (a few even run for election now and then). Producers and artists can lobby, lament and lolligag around waiting for Canada Council grants all they want and it wouldn't make a lick of difference to these people. But when their own son or daughter comes home from school and tells them what an awesome time they had at the play today, then they just might understand.

Snow days. Gotta love 'em.

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