How My Child and Family Benefits from Community Theatre Involvement
One theater mom shares her family's experience with local community theater.
By Laura Bickel
Like most parents when our son was a toddler we started exploring various activities, adventures or opportunities to broaden our child’s life experience in ways we may not have had the opportunity to be exposed to as children ourselves, usually because our parents didn’t have the money or the time. Especially with a single parent, there really wasn’t a lot of time for the weekly commitment to sports and things until we got older and could manage to get ourselves to those activities on our own. One sister was a cheerleader, another sang in the choir and I played on the tennis team.
My husband on the other hand grew up in a typical lower middle class family with three boys. They too did not do all those sports and scouts, etc. but they were involved in music from a very young age. In fact my husband received a college scholarship because of his drumming skills, and his brothers received music scholarships through college as well. Additionally, the singing trio of boys could be found performing in church or school programs throughout their childhood.
When our child was born we were determined to try to create an environment for a “well-rounded” child who will be a productive citizen without the “entitlement mentality” we’ve seen in a lot of kids today.
Yep, like our parents, we are still middle class with one working parent so we are definitely not frivolous with our finances but we still take advantage of the various activities offered through the local community education programs. Like many parents, we want to help our child figure out what his favorite activities will be. I usually refer to that as trying to help him find his passion.
Once he figures out what that passion will be we’ll throw all the support we can behind that activity. So at about two or so we started exploring the Mom and me type of gymnastic program with the famed “Ms. Jan” in Hartland. From there we tried the sports mix program and swimming through one of the community education programs, focusing on soccer for a while. I LOVED soccer and cheering all the kids from the sidelines, and yes, I was one of the noisier ones! How can anyone watch any sport without cheering loudly for ALL the kids?
From soccer we went on to try baseball and then basketball. Finally found his favorite sport - the Ah ha moment! So basketball is to be the sport for his athletic focus. Well at this point you are probably wondering what all that has to do with theatre.
The point is we exposed him to all kinds of activities and in the mist of the athletics we also wanted to make sure he had some artistic release. Was that to be drawing, piano, drums, hmmm…. Austin likes all of those but we also discovered that like many kids, he loved to dress up in some self-created costume and act out whatever show he was watching on TV. So from about age three he got involved with some sort of performing and by the age of six he was officially acting in front of large audiences.
The first stage performance for Austin outside of reciting Linus’s Christmas monologue for a church service at age 6 was performing with Howell High School’s The Christmas Carole again at age six. I cannot really remember how we found out about that audition. But, I have to tell you it was very emotional as a parent watching all those high school, middle school and elementary kids chosen to be involved with that production develop their characters. Why? To see the hard work, dedication, self-discipline and camaraderie come to fruition with an amazingly well performed show, one cannot help being proud of every single child involved. Yes, I did cry throughout the students’ performances because I was that proud of each kid - not just my own. That feeling never goes away – every single musical or play since then has evoked the same response.
Ask any parent whose child is involved with theatre. It becomes a family for whom you are proud of each member and what they have contributed.
Theresia Rogers agreed, “When Tori did the musical 13 at our community theatre I don’t think there was one performance I didn’t bawl through, not even one, I cried every single time.”
Becky Dilworth, who is also very active with the community theatre, was involved with our first Howell High School play and she suggested we check out the next theatre audition. Unfortunately that would not happen for about a year, given all the other activities we were involved with. But in the meantime, my husband Brian mused about how much he missed performing as he watched a summer performance at the Nashville Dinner Theatre involving at that time our seven-year-old acting with my mother in The Beauty and The Beast.
From that point forward we found ourselves involved with two or three productions a year at a community theatre. Our involvement doesn’t just revolve around acting, as there are sets to be built, costumes to be made, props to be found, tech support, producing, directing, etc. Ask the Rogers family. They too have been involved in all areas of the theatre, making community theatre a family activity of which each member plays some part of nearly every performance.
Theresia Rogers and her family got involved with the community theatre when fellow teacher Mary Jo Del Vero suggested she have their daughter Tori check out the theatre camp. Camp was a very big hit with third grade Tori and totally hooked her. She promptly started working on dad to consider being on stage with her. He relinquished, but actually his first show wasn’t with Tori, although eventually he did do a show with her. Tori is now a freshman in high school and preparing to audition for a role in Little Mermaid, Jr. which will be her 11th or 12th play.
As Theresia Rogers, Mandy Tefft and I discuss community theatre and how it has impacted our family, we each share similar feelings, with our children piping in to agree.
Theresia Rogers adds, “when you get to the end of the production you are just so totally exhausted but yet you are still energized and remembering it was so much fun. On the Monday following the last performance you are so glad you finally have time to yourself. But, then a few days later you are thinking ‘ok when is the next show?’
Mandy says she too starts wondering “what am I going to do with myself when the production is over? Claire does really well keeping busy and staying focused, which helps her to get good grades. Plus being in the theatre she is learning to make good friends that are positive people. There is so much the kids learn like how hard work pays off.”
Theresia adds, “When it comes to theatre Tori is so serious - totally, totally focused. When she was doing Cinderella she would be backstage and her friends were trying to talk to her and she was like ‘I am trying to work and focus. Please wait until after the show to talk to me. I’m not trying to be mean, I am trying to give the audience the best performance I can. Which I can only do if I stay focused.’”
Another avenue of learning which theatre presents relates to sportsmanship. It teaches that even if you are not cast, you can still be supportive of your friends who are. Learning to deal with disappointment is a major life lesson that will serve kids well later in life. And you also learn that theatre truly is a team sport. Every cast member is not only important, but essential for the success of a show. A lead actor cannot possibly present a believable character without the support of the rest of the cast. So it is good for all types of life lessons, dealing in a positive way with disappoint while supporting their friends, learning self-discipline, hard-work, focus, organizational skills, creativity.
The level of commitment is not really different from sports. Football starts practicing in August and runs through the end of the season. Because of the level of commitment sometimes friends will ask, “when do you get to hang out with friends and just goof off?”
Our friends can be involved with our scout life, school life, basketball life or theatre life. We just happen to be hanging with our friends at the theatre this time, playing between stage appearances or doing homework.
College sophomore Jesse Techentin sums it up best, “I was involved with community theatre extensively for 5 years. Being in shows with my family helped us bond even more and create many fun and cherished memories.
"Theatre itself helps people develop a wider range of skills beyond mere performance talents. Not only did community theatre help me improve and exercise my creativity, imagination, and organizational skills, but it also gave me a second home in a way. All of the people who surrounded me truly loved me and cared about me, and nearly all of my lifetime friendships have come out of this amazing organization! I am currently 19 years old and pursuing a degree in Theatre Tech/Design at Central Michigan University. Community theatre did indeed help inspire and prepare me for this particular degree, both through hands-on learning opportunities from the numerous shows and camps as well as though the aid of a financial scholarship. As of right now I'm well on my way to completing this degree and am enjoying my sophomore year of college.”
Come experience for yourself the results of community theatre camaraderie, dedication, self-discipline, hard work, creativity and imagination in this fall’s performance of My Son Pinocchio, Geppetto’s Story at the Community Theatre of Howell.
My Son Pinocchio is the story of Pinocchio running away from home from Geppetto’s point of view. It is a very humorous, entertaining, and emotional tale of a father and son relationship performed November 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 at 7:30 and Nov 10, 11, 17, 18 at 2:00. Get your tickets at at their website.
What makes it even more emotional is that real father and son Brian Bickel and Austin Bickel play the roles of Geppetto and Pinocchio. They are joined by an outstanding cast of actors, who have developed this production into a high-class family show. Many loyal patrons are of the opinion that Community Theatre of Howell creates professional level productions. Come see for yourself!