It was the third night my 15-year old daughter had fallen asleep on top of her books during what theatre kids call tech week—and I was concerned.
I went in to check on her when I saw the lights on in her room at 12:15 a.m. The contents of her backpack were spread out over her bed and her face was in a book. She mumbled something about an upcoming test, and I swung from cool mom-friend to fake-operative spy-parent faster than I could wrap a blanket around her.
“Honey, maybe it’s time to take a break from theatre after this?” I suggested. “It’s late.”
My daughter’s eyes flickered wide open in shock at my suggestion. (Though it was more like a parental warning.)
“No, you can’t even say that. Are you serious? Theatre is my yoga!”
I should have known better. As a writing coach, I’ve lived, breathed and preached the benefits of a creative life many times over. How could I forget that the smell of a stage is where my daughter gets the energy that no food or even sleep can provide—along with making her feel like her whole self?
I considered the before and after of my daughter’s day.
After getting home from school earlier that day, she had flopped down on the couch with a scowl and huddled over her Chromebook. “I have so much homework,” she mouthed. At 4:45 p.m., she knocked on the door of my office so I could drive her back to school for rehearsal. She still looked tired but offered a quick, “See you later,” as the car door closed behind her.
At 9 p.m., I waited amid a cluster of other cars, looking for the shape of my daughter in the dark. Who was that kid skipping toward our car door? It was my daughter, skipping and laughing as she got in the car. “Feeling better?” I asked, with a smile.
The Benefits of a Creative Life
After seeing how my daughter’s theater time affects her—and agonizing over her schedule—I checked in with the experts for their take. They were enthusiastic about her pursuit of the arts. The joy in my daughter after rehearsal demonstrates what a creative life can do for all of us, according to psychiatrist and co-author of The Creativity Cure, Dr. Carrie Barron. It’s about having the freedom to be yourself and to play, which Einstein called the highest form of research, Barron told me.
Furthermore, she says, there are many studies that explore the connection between creativity and greater mental and physical health for adults. But the benefits of creativity as a way to reduce stress and offer outlets for expression are perhaps even more pronounced for teens.
“The psychologist Abraham Maslow talked about actualization which is at the top of our hierarchy of human needs. That’s exactly what creativity is. It means coming into your full self,” Barron added.
Dr. Phyllis Robertson, School Counseling Program Professor at Western Carolina University, also emphasized the benefits of the arts. She has observed that kids who are involved in extracurricular activities tend to have better social abilities and more coping mechanisms.
“What I believe the expressive arts offer is the ability to project frustrations, including emotional content that tends to blur perspectives,” Dr. Robertson told me. “Kids can project onto whatever they are drawing or sculpting or into other creative processes which help them act out their feelings in a safe space.”
All of this rings true when I think about what theater means to my daughter. I’ve seen my daughter’s face light up amidst the backstage buzz, where the actors and crew joke, hug and high-five each other’s performances. She looks right at home.
It will likely always be a balancing act to set aside time for my daughter to exercise her creative muscle. But it’s a high priority for me that can be planned for and balanced with other responsibilities. Yes, there will be blips and overscheduling but we’re getting there—the occasional late night notwithstanding.
And her theatre experience is about more than a sense of home or a specific external outcome for my daughter. It’s where she goes to tap back into her inner life and her purest form of joy and excitement. So I said yes when she asked to audition for another musical, because I know she is forging a path to her most authentic self—and that will sustain her for the rest of her life.