Over my twelve years as an Acting and Theatre Teacher, I have always been fascinated to witness children when they enter the zone of deep creative play, lost in a fantasy world of their own. I am sure you have seen it yourself – the intensity of focus, the joy of creation.
Clearly, no one teaches children how to be in connection with their artistic self; it is an innately human state of being, one that is necessary in order to make the world inside and outside of us better. And one that should be cherished and honed to carry our children into adulthood, a time when creativity and freedom of expression is all too often stifled.
These artistic moments in freedom of expression, building something new from nothing, are multiplied as they happen. Children who experience them will incorporate these moments into their own internal mechanics and therefore become better for having shared it. Creative oil in the machine, so to speak.
When we engage in theatre-making and acting, we must be in collaboration with others. The art form simply cannot exist without the work of the group and that cannot work without learning to peacefully connect with one another and ourselves in ways that are not possible through other arts, science or technology. In the theatre, we are reminded how to listen to one another with our eyes and our ears. Face to face, we share ideas, tell stories, develop empathy through role play, safely connect to the emotional self and feel the joy of creative play. We might even dance, paint sets or design costumes or sing. It is that beautiful and transformative experience of sharing emotionally invested creations with an audience. And we even get applause for a job well done!
Nurture your child’s need to create and connect in a classroom setting with the Queens community acting class offerings presented by Rising City Arts, designed for kids ages 3 and up. All classes are taught by New York’s finest acting teachers and located in the heart of Astoria, at Broadway Dance (31st Street and Broadway, right off the N/Q Train). Fairytale Adventures, Imagination Playground, All About Acting and more! Visit RisingCityArts.com to learn more and register your little one for class.
And keep the inspired creativity and connection flowing at home with these four acting exercises. All exercises require a leader (you), two or more players (young actors) and if you can pull together an audience to share your playtime, all the better! Remember to let the players bow for applause at the end of their performances.
1) Story Theatre: Act out story books. Yes, it is exactly that. Cast the roles and a narrator. While the narrator reads the story, the actors play the roles, pantomiming and moving through the space. The narrator can pause in the story at any point (you can call out “freeze”) and ask the actors to make sounds or shapes to create the setting for the story. The narrator can also pause before a character “speaks” so the actor can improvise the dialogue in character. You can change this up by taking plot of the story in different direction – letting the players tell you what comes next, improvising a new story together.
2) Dressing a Character: Yup, it’s dress up time! Compile a box of accessories like fun hats, ties, scarves, glasses, aprons, bouquet of plastic flowers, maybe a crown or cape. You can also just open up your closet. Using a full-length mirror, allow the players five minutes (be strict about the time – calling out time left as it passes) to dress up in costume and create an original character. When the five minutes are up, instruct players to walk across the room as their character in an “as if” scenario (your character is running late, feeling sleepy, etc.). Once they have explored the character in movement, you can lead them (using something to simulate a microphone) into a “Press Conference” or “Talk Show” improvisation. Once you have asked what their character name is, they are introduced to the audience, the audience applauds and the questions begin. Anyone can ask questions – just use your mock-microphone. The players being interviewed will, of course, answer the questions impromptu and in character. You will be AMAZED by their boundless creativity when they are role playing.
3) Playwriting, Improvisational Theatre: Creating stories from just a suggestion. Fill three small bags with names of “Settings” (at the airport, at the beach…), “Characters” (a Mom, a Lion, an Astronaut…) and “Phrases” (“I love you”, “Speed up, I’m late!”…). The kids can fill the bags with their ideas as well. You can also include a bag of silly props (egg beater, remote control…). Pair up players into groups of 2 or more. Beginners will just choose a setting or other category. Give them a timed 5 minutes to work out a short story using that element. Have a performance sharing of the short improvised play they have created. Applaud when they are finished. As they advance in understanding, have each group choose a setting, 2 or more characters, a phrase and (for more advanced players) a prop. With these guidelines, they will write a play or plan an improvisation to be shared for an audience. Challenge them with the rule that no characters can die or kill anyone. This is a bigger challenge for kids than you think but essential to keep the story moving forward.
4) Engaging in open ended questions: We all get attached to our favorite shows on television or in books. What is your child’s favorite? Engage them in conversation using open ended questioning (answers that require more than a yes or no answer) about why they like the story, the characters, etc. Have them explain their favorite episode or segment. Ask them what the story means to them. Ask them which character they identify with? How that character feels about things. Ask them how they are similar or different from that character. What kind of stories would they write for these characters, where would they take them on a journey? Try not to add personal judgments along the way. Actively listen and allow their connection to story and characters to be just what it is – a new discovery for both of you.
Cheers to taking the time to create, connect and play together in acting class with RisingCityArts and at home with your lovely little ones!
By Dina Comolli, Harvard trained Actress and Executive Director of Rising City Arts