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Why Children's Theater Matters (page 2)

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Updated on Jun 1, 2014

While plays work to jumpstart the imagination, they also lengthen the attention span. At first, Hartzell says, sitting still in a darkened room may not feel natural for children. But that’s precisely why it’s important. Because TV is such a popular form of entertainment, she says, kids aren't used to focusing for an hour or an hour and a half. “Kids today see a new image every 3-4 seconds. They’re used to constant change. And they don’t listen as well,” she says.

For parents still recovering from their own experiences with theater for kids—slapdash unprofessional productions that lasted way too long, take heart. This is not the children’s theater of yesteryear. In fact, it’s not even called children’s theater anymore, it’s called “theater for young audiences.” Sure, many of these theaters still do fairy tales and classics, but they’re also pushing the boundaries—offering stories about the Holocaust, a musical about teen alienation, or a modernized version of Antigone. Brosius says this vibrant retelling of history makes learning come alive. “When they connect with a play about a particular time period, they’re hungry to learn, they’re driven to learn,” he says.

When should you get your kids started? The sooner the better, says Kovac. “There have long been a lots of shows for 5-years old and up. More and more companies are experiementing with shows for ages 3 and up”. In Europe, companies are creating shows for kids as young as 1 ½ or 2.

Brosius says there are definite advantages to starting young. If you inspire a love of theater early on, there's a better chance that your child will develop creative gifts, and maintain a lifelong appreciation for the performing arts. “Kids brains are being hardwired and parents can help spark those neural pathways of creativity,” he says.

The good news is, the number of children’s theaters in America seems to be increasing, rather than shrinking. And the quality is better than ever because in recent years, companies that produce theater for young audiences have been getting something they’ve been struggling with for years: respect. In 2003, the Children’s Theatre Company, based in Minneapolis, became the first ever children’s troupe to win a Regional Tony award.

So take advantage of the boom. Not sure where to start? For a list of the 90+ theaters that are members of TYA/USA, go to www.assitej-usa.org/members.html. Some of the better known companies in the country, in alphabetical order, include:

Adventure Stage, Chicago IL

Charlotte Children’s Theatre, NC

Chicago Children’s Theatre, IL

Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis

Childsplay, Tempe AZ

The Coterie, Kansas City, KS

Dallas Children’s Theater, TX

First Stage Milwaukee, WI

Florida Stage, FL

Imagination Stage, Bethesda, MD

Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences, Washington, D.C.

Lexington Children’s Theare, KY

Metro Theatre, St. Louis

Nashville Children’s Theatre, TN

North Carolina Theater for Young People, NC

Omaha Children’s Theater, NE

Oregon Children’s Theatre, Portland, OR

Orlando Rep, FL

Seattle Children’s Theatre, WA

There are also some great festivals such those that take place in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the Flint Hills International Festival at the Ordway, St. Paul, and the Seattle International Children’s Festival.

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