Youth Theater: A Tale of Two Josephs
This past weekend my family and I took in a performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was a special night, but not simply because Joseph is one of my favorite shows. Rather, it was special because my seventeen-year old daughter was performing. It was the second time that she had been cast in a performance of Joseph. The first time she was only thirteen, and it was her first show. As I watched her sing and dance Saturday night, it dawned on me that my daughter had changed dramatically (pun intended) since that first performance.
As a child, my daughter was terribly shy. She often hid behind her mother in public and refused to speak to anyone outside her own family. Today, she is a strong, independent, confident, and talented young lady with a very bright future ahead of her. She knows exactly what she wants to do for a career, and, as a senior in high school, has already begun taking college-credit courses toward that end.
What happened? What brought about such change? How did my daughter conquer her shyness? Where did her confidence and determination come from?
Well, I’d like to think it was due to her father’s patient love and her mother’s steady encouragement. However, I’m more inclined to suggest that it was the result of her consistent participation in musical theater during her teen years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe that her parents’ love and support have played a great role in her development, but if not for youth theater, I’m not sure that our daughter would have ever found the right context to see her talents and her confidence bloom.
I remember the first time she came to us and asked about auditioning for a show. She had worked backstage with a local youth theater group for one show and had a good experience, but was she ready to go on stage? Was she up to the commitment? How would this otherwise timid young lady react to being on stage in front of so many people?
We weren’t too sure.
The next day I found a letter on my desk. In it, my daughter explained why it was so important for her to try out for a role. She acknowledged how scared she was to fail, but at the same time she knew that she needed to audition. She saw it as an experience that was worth the risks. We obliged. She was cast. And the rest, as they say, was history.
Now my daughter has had her share of “ups and downs” over the years. She has experienced the high of nailing an audition and being cast as the lead in a show. And, she has known the lows of blowing an audition and being relegated to a background part. She has also known the joy of being called back for another round of auditions, only to lose the part to a close friend. Nevertheless, each role in which she has eventually been cast has taught her something about herself. And that has been worth the price of admission.
If you know anything about the world of “theater kids”, then you probably know that life for them seems to be all the more dramatic offstage than onstage. One day life is a complete tragedy filled with enough human suffering and drama for a thousand Shakespearean festivals, while another day it is a full-fledged Elizabethan comedy with a “happy ending” that would make even the most dour-faced observer grin from ear to ear. However, there is something about all that offstage drama that makes youth theater special. Perhaps, it is the fact that amidst such tragedy and comedy, friendships are born, horizons are expanded, creativity is celebrated, and self-esteem is improved.
Today, we don’t tell our daughter to “break a leg” before she goes on stage, as most people do as a way to affirm an actress prior to a show; instead, we tell her to “break a foot.” Why? Well, it seems that in most every show she has participated in, she has managed to hurt a toe, a heel, an ankle, or some other part of her foot. It’s become the family joke, of course. However, I guess in some ways it’s a reminder of something else. In her five years of musical theater, our teenager has missed zero performances and only one rehearsal. No matter how tired she was, how sick she felt, or how much pain she was in, she has always taken the stage.
Youth theater may not be for everyone, but I sure am glad my daughter decided it was for her. As I watched her perform in her second production of Joseph this weekend, I realized the role that theater had played in making her the young woman she is today. For she is no longer that shy, reluctant, and self-absorbed little girl who was scared of everyone, including her own shadow; rather, she is a talented, determined, confident, and disciplined individual. She knows what she wants, and she appreciates the hard work that it is going to take to get there.
After all, if you can survive the drama that is teenage life in youth theater, then you can survive most anything.