At the age of 10, after a string of parts in church Nativity plays and school musicals, my daughter decided to sign up for proper drama classes, once a week, with a professional outfit here in Amsterdam.
Now, a year later, her eight-year-old brother is going for it as well. I cheer them both on, and can’t wait to see how their interaction develops as they become loud, posturing foils for one another over the dinner table. For me this will be a poignant double mystery. I can write and direct, but I can’t act – indeed, I couldn’t act wet in the bath – and I am also an only child. They will be skipping, hand in hand, ever deeper into territory where I can’t follow.
But for anyone who has the talent (and apparently they both have. Anything’s misery if you’re no good at it), the study of acting and stagecraft is perhaps the best all-round extra-curricular activity a child can have.
The mastery of posture, movement and gesture imparts physical confidence, the habit of improvisation its social dimension. The enunciation and interpretation of lines teaches the young not to be careless of meaning and nuance, arguably more important than ever in this age of Twitter diplomacy and instant comment rushed out under the lash of the online update. Learning to project the voice exercises the lungs, which also benefit from the straight posture required.
As the course progresses, the study of heavy roles will inculcate emotional literacy, the absolute opposite of the destructive navel-gazing exploited by the likes of Psychologies magazine, while the context of a play casts light on the complexity of a world in which there are no easy answers. And, like all the arts, the theatre at its best speaks to its audience in a language that transcends both the divisions between us and the limitations we see in ourselves.
Yes, the children will benefit enormously from their drama class. And fortunately they also have parents who will not shrink from telling them, if need be, that their political opinions are utter tosh.
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