Sunday, May 17, 2009

Writing for Kids

I have taught drama for approximately 15 years for different theatre companies. And one thing that I have run up again and again is the poor quality of the scripts that are available for children. They are usually two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. While they are generally insulting to the intelligence levels of kids, they are also boring for the kids to act out. There is nothing so despondent as a group of kids being handed something that has been written by someone without the slightest clue about what kids are like and what they can accomplish. Sanitized, lifeless pieces of paper, that cause the kids to stoop down, not stand up and reach. I have read hundreds of kids scripts and the vast majority of them produce very bad theatre. If you write for children, remember that they are highly-intelligent creatures, some of them are geniuses. Obviously some kids struggle with reading, but theatre provides a voice for these kids. I think of theatre as great literature. It has to be, it only has the words to recommend it. But it is literature from the inside, looking out. Theatre takes actors and changes them into the characters that inhabit the page. As an actor, you are looking out from the pages of the play. When you read a novel, all the characters become part of your world, and you learn to know them well. To an audience, while watching a play, the actors create a three-dimensional world, where the actors are like pop-up characters that come to life. An actor gets to be one of these living characters, and painlessly, they find themselves speaking the words of the great authors, and bringing an imaginary character, a construct of words to life. Usually it helps not to be taught about these great authors in school. There is nothing like dwelling on the rules of literature to kill any interest in a subject. Children can speak Shakespeare without much problem, as long as they have not been inhibited by the fear that it is supposed to be great literature. Once kids learn that they feel inadequate to the task. My latest Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is eleven years old and brilliant. Kids bring a passion, a poetry, a sense of play, and a willingness to learn, and when scripts deny them those things, it demeans them. It dries them up creatively. Shakespeare, Moliere and Checkov, wrote plays for the actors in their casts, and I realized that I would have to write plays for the kids in my casts. The kids come up with ideas, improv some possible scenes and then you have it, inspiration for a play for children. Out of chaos comes creativity. The process of creativity can be chaotic, and you don’t need to control the kids to create good scripts. You only need to harness their energy and creativity with the written word. A succession of written words form the order that is the play. You need characters, conflict and resolution with a good dose of the kids humour thrown in for good measure. Another thing that is important is to teach them, bring what’s inside out. They have potential, bring it out, instead of trying to control it. Let them participate in the creation of their own play. And while you are teaching them about facing out, and stage left and stage right, and to stop upstaging each other, and to open their mouths while they are talking, and to stop pulling Sally’s hair, you can also stretch their vocabulary by giving them words and concepts that they have to reach for, words and concepts that are the foundation of any play. The eleven-year old girl who is playing Puck for me, at eight years old was playing a mouse with a huge vocabulary. She only knew the meaning and the pronunciation of half the words. By performance time, she knew them all and had stretched as a performer. Playing Puck is one more step in her development.. So, instead of looking for scripts online, write your own script, and write a script that the kids can help create. Just remember to have a beginning, a middle and an end, characters and conflict. In the end a resolution. Write them something that teaches and enriches. Write them something that allows them to grow as actors and as people. Children need to be creative. Help them create.

No comments: