I was a youngster of five or six when I first became aware of musical theater. I was a freakish child of five voraciously reading about all things historical and presidential. One summer, my mother took me to see 1776 at the movie theater. Seeing the signing of the Declaration of Independence and being captivated by our singing and harmonizing founding fathers made me giddy. I would sing “Sit Down, John” and “The Egg” with a passion my neighborhood friends just didn’t understand. In junior high, the opportunity to PERFORM in the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown gave me a new passion that I’ve enjoyed for most of my life.
While raising our family, my wife and I decided we should get our family involved in the performing arts as well. We encouraged them to play instruments, audition for parts in school and community theater productions, and to see all kinds of theater in a variety of venues. They, too, caught the bug. They kept performing well into their college years. And it was our family hobby every summer, mounting shows like Oliver!, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, Fiddler on the Roof. These experiences not only helped them develop their craft, but it caused them to work with adults in an environment where they were peers. As such, we witnessed their growth outside the theater in ways we could not anticipate. Children with leadership skills. Teens who engaged in conversations with adults in social settings rather than shrink from interactions and try to blend in with the wallpaper—Go figure! They now are independent, making successful careers for themselves and providing my wife and me some adorable grandchildren. While they’re taking a break from community theaters right now, we remain hopeful that they’ll find a way to come back to the performance arena in the next few years.
All this to point out why TMTP’s children’s education program “Kids Love Musicals!” is such an important feature of The Musical Theater Project offerings. This fascinating experience, unleashed in 2006 by founding artistic director Bill Rudman, while not a full-scale theatrical production, exposes children to some of the aspects of classic musical theater they might not enjoy otherwise. Whether it’s The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan or Cinderella, kids get to explore those emotions our characters would feel given certain situations. Over the course of two days, they discuss what it feels like to be excluded, to be different; how we express exuberance and joy; letting our imaginations run free with flying or transforming mice and pumpkins to horses and a carriage. And we SING and MOVE and find RHYTHM and enjoy the by-products of COMMUNITY and BELONGING.
Isn’t it awe-inspiring to think one of those second-graders dancing around a classroom floor with a cape and crown, flying with Peter Pan or dancing with Cinderella is going to one day be a community leader—a captain of industry? They might be a Broadway star, too! But for a moment, we helped them shed inhibitions, explore their feelings, commune with their peers and SHINE.
For more information about Kids Love Musicals! call Bill Rudman at 216-860-1518, Ext. 706, or visit our website at MusicalTheaterProject.org.
Jack Warren is Managing Director of The Musical Theater Project, a non-profit arts education organization based in Cleveland, Ohio. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.