89. Non-Thespians

I was going to write an article about the joy children feel when they get to be in a play. I was all set to write it. Then the anxious faces of several children appeared in my mind, and these children seemed to be asking me to write, first, about the joy of not having to be in a play. Usually, there were only a few children in my classes who didn’t want to be in plays, but their voices (or silences) deserve to be heard.
I don’t think I’ve ever had stage fright. When I’ve been on stage, my only fear has been that someone might not notice me. So I didn’t learn about stage fright firsthand. I didn’t learn about it from children, either; at first my approach with children was to try to convince them that once they tried standing in front of people and acting, singing, dancing, they’d love it. After all, I did.
I learned about stage fright by hearing the early childhood memories of adult friends. Theatre wasn’t, for them, what it was for me. At first I tried to convince my adult friends that the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd was one of life’s joys, and shouldn’t be missed by anyone. But gradually, I learned that there are people for whom there is much greater joy in the freedom not to be on stage.
Then I applied this insight to children. I decided not to require any child to be in a play. Sometimes, for the sake of classroom management, I required a child to stand with the cast, but no one had to speak lines, sing, or dance if they didn’t want to. Usually, by the time we were ready to perform, all of the children had roles in the plays, but only because they wanted to. Possibly the freedom not to helped clear away some of the stage fright. Maybe children were so grateful that they thanked me by participating a little.
Stage fright is a phenomenon I can’t quite comprehend, but if it’s out there, I suppose I’ve got to recognize it and respect it. Now that I’ve spoken for the non-thespians, in my next article, I’ll feel freer to talk about that passion I share with many children – the thrill of knowing that all those people out there in the audience have their eyes and ears directed this way.

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