By: Catherine Miller
I do not have one matronly bone in my body. When Karen Sharp of Seattle Children’s Theatre came to DePaul this past Spring to speak about her experiences as Education Director and working with children, I immediately pushed away. Being easily agitated by large groups of children, I have always believed that I would not make a good educator. Children intimidate me. I steer clear of those darn kids as much as possible. As the opportunity arose to work at my old youth theatre for a few weeks this summer, I jumped at it with a secret agenda…money. But what I did not anticipate was gaining more than just a paycheck.
Toy Story Onstage! camp terrified me from the get go. The challenge was to teach young children their lines and lyrics, combine it with movement and present it to their parents at the end of one week. To up the ante, I was assigned to Team Buzz Lightyear, which consisted of eighteen kindergarteners and first graders…..and I was shaking in my boots. These kids were small and adorable, but were much smarter than anyone would give them credit for. We taught them the difference between screaming and singing, and how enunciation and projection were important for the audience to understand the words they were saying. As I sat there watching my campers take in all of this information, I realized why this time was different than the past few times I had worked in a camp setting.
I turned into a pile of mush when my campers took the stage to perform. I forgot about their annoying nature and their ability to piss me off in the smallest ways. Their adorable faces were beaming as they began to sing, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” from Toy Story. And at that moment, I felt what I assume a parent feelswhen watching their child accomplish something fantastic. Grinning from ear to ear, I knew all the stress was worth it to know that our combined work had paid off.
Children see things differently than adults do. They are not jaded by television or political dealings. Their lives aren’t defined by a job or their status in society. They want to listen and learn everything they can so we as adults must choose wisely what to teach them. This summer I came to realize–as the future of arts education and funding in America remains uncertain– it is not only my duty as an artist to create work, but help future artists navigate their way through this art form. A long time from now, my fellow collaborators and I will be long gone. And maybe….just maybe, through working with my campers by creating a play for their parents, I have instilled in them the same passion that I feel for theatre. Even if they don’t all end up being actors, dramaturgs, or directors, maybe some of them will be future theatregoers or board members. Through working at this camp, I have passed on the passion I feel for this art form. As Marie states in Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, “There are only two worthwhile things to leave behind when we depart this world of ours: children and art.”