Theater and kids

Theater and kids: A bit of a personal statement

One of the first things my husband and I did after moving to central Pennsylvania was to look for the Great White Way, well, make that local theaters. As uptown Harrisburg residents, we heard first of Open Stage, and went from there.

I remember the great shock and delight as former (forever?) New Yorkers to learn how much was going on in the area theatrically. And, as I’ve written many times, of what quality.

Our children had not yet come along, so our quest was purely for us–and purely for enjoyment and edification.

I became a theater previewer, then a reviewer, and back again, and our two children arrived.

Just as my parents had done with me, I started taking them to theater at an early age. I still remember vividly my older, very active daughter climbing over chairs while we were watching “The Secret Garden” at Theatre Harrisburg (then still Harrisburg Community Theatre). Fortunately, people were tolerant. The younger one sat still–and mesmerized.

Over the years they saw many shows–mostly here but also in New York, where their grandparents still lived. Although our family loves movies–we’re “addicted” to TCM–we all thrill to live theater. And II was thrilled when they preferred Theatre Hrrisburg’s production of “Into the Woods” over the filmed theater version, even though the latter starred Bernadette Peters. I hope they will continue to appreciate the immediacy of theater.

At some point, my kids decided they wanted to perform themselves, and oh, what an enriching experience that was. We met and befriended the late Sharon Hillegas, the mother of so much theater in the area. Sharon had her own professional venue but also directed productions at the Jewish Community Center. My kids were in the chorus of several shows, and eventually had solos: Helena, the elder, sang “Bella Notte” in a Disney revue, while Cynthia played the youngest daughter in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

They also took several classes, including at York Little Theatre, and Cynthia eventually did summer internships at Gamut Theatre Group, helping with the summer camp.

My kids still love theater, though at this point Helen performs more at karaoke than on stage. She also accompanies the hundreds of show tunes on her iPod. She loves to “test” my knowledge of where songs come from–it’s pretty good, I have to say!–and to compare performances by Mary Martin and Barbra Streisand, and the like.

Cynthia is completed her B.A. in dramatic literature and creative writing at NYU, where she helped resuscitate a theater group in which she acted once and directed three times.

Meanwhile, partly because of their inspiration, I began doing some playwriting.

Their lives have been so much richer for being audience members, and to whatever degree, for participating in performances. Theater has given them more self-confidence, enhanced their ability to work cooperatively with others, and brought them joy.

It has also connected them to previous generations of theater lovers in the family. And, hopefully, to future ones. Let’s go on with the show!