For 15-year-old KaLyn Fagan, youth theater is a place she can let go and be herself—a safe haven for self-expression. “It’s like stress release,” she says. “With acting, you can pull emotions out, then turn them off completely.”
This spring, KaLyn starred in a production of “Feed” by Eric Coble (adapted from the M.T. Anderson novel)— a futuristic play about teens and social media put on by her local theater group, Cleveland Play House. But her role didn’t involve taking centerstage. In this play, she did voice work (she describes her role as “like Siri”) and operated the soundboard—something she’d never done before.
“It was fun, a new experience,” she said. “It’s cool to be able to control what you want to hear. It’s like having your imagination come alive.”
A Role for Everyone
If you have a teen who doesn’t crave the spotlight, you may not think of drama as their ideal extracurricular activity. But Fagan’s experience is an example of the range of possibilities in youth theater.
“There’s room in theater for everybody,” says Derek Green, associate producer for education at Cleveland Play House. “Theater is unique in that it’s the most collaborative art form there is. So many people are needed for a show to happen.”
You might not realize it, says Green, but there are many different roles in theater for teens—from set design to stage management, costuming, directing, and choreography. Each role requires different skills and personality traits, and a production needs them all to shine.
The organized teen:
If your teen thrives on organization and works well with others, stage managing might be the role for them, says Green.
The hands-on teen:
Someone who likes working with their hands and has a penchant for physics or geometry might love getting involved in set building and design.
The crafty teen:
Teens who like to sew or sift through thrift shops might be great at creating costumes and props.
The techie teen:
Teens who are comfortable with technology could excel at running the sound board and lighting.
The history-buff teen:
Dramaturgy might be where it’s at for teens who love history. “A dramaturg researches the world of the play—such as its historical time period and social issues and how they resonate for an audience today,” says Ginny Anderson, assistant professor of theater at Connecticut College.
Anderson’s advice for parents is to consider what your teen is already interested in and what personality traits stand out. “Theater is a great way to expand existing skills and interests in entirely new ways,” she says.
Benefits of Youth Theater
On the other hand, says KaLyn, you might be surprised by what interests your kid; the way they are at home or at school might be different when they get on stage.
“Certain kids are really quiet, but when they get on stage, they’re a whole different person,” KaLyn remarks. “Talkative kids might clam up on stage and make good directors instead.”
Either way, Green adds, theater for teens is a great way to gain self-confidence and work on some of the soft skills that aren’t always taught in school.
“Communication, teamwork, creative problem-solving—these are all things youth theater emphasizes,” says Green. “It’s a creative challenge to take an imagined story that might be really difficult to realize and then figure out with a group of people how to do that in a certain amount of time, with a limited amount of resources, and in a way that is authentic and engaging.”
Most of all, says KaLyn, theater is an opportunity to be you. “You can be the kind of kid who has the craziest ideas,” she says. “But in theater, that’s just normal.”