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Why Take an Acting Class?

by Aleta Barthell

Acting is often thought of as only for the few special ones, the ones with a natural gift, those who just need their lucky break and they will become the next super-celebrity. Forget training, you either have it, or you don’t...right?

Is the only validity for an acting class that it will put you on the road to become a superstar? What if the students never become actors? Does that mean that there is no merit or growth to be gained from an acting class? I don’t believe this is true. Acting helps build self-confidence and develop public speaking skills, it promotes creative problem-solving and can provide a positive experience in working together with a group.

I am the founder of Kids Act, a unique acting program for youth. One day, a four-year-old boy was having a tough time. His mother told him it was time to stop crying and “Get ready for drama class.” Full of frustration and tears, he turned to me and said, “What is drama anyway?!” I knew that I needed to give special attention to my answer. I looked at him and his tender state, and told him that drama is sharing a story with an audience, so that we don’t feel so alone. He stared at me. I continued, “Sometimes I watch a character going through something that I’m having a hard time with and think ‘Ah! I’m not alone!’” He wiped his face, stood up and quietly went to his seat to begin class.

For me, the magic in an acting class is witnessing the growth of an individual and the expression of their own personal truth. In my acting program, students create their own characters and we build an original play based on these characters for our performance at the end for family and friends. The resulting character is definitely an investment of themselves and they take great pride and ownership of this creation.

I remember a little girl whose parents were going through a divorce and she developed a character who never wanted to be divorced from her sea turtle. The sea turtle had been established as the most important thing in her character’s life.

Then there was the 8 year-old boy who was thrilled to be in acting class. In fact, his enthusiasm overflowed so much, it became somewhat of a disruption. I talked to his mother about it. She said, “He’s just been put on antidepressants, and it’s hard to gauge his behavior.” An 8-year-old on antidepressants? I found out that his father had been stationed in Iraq. He created a character, a blue-haired witch, Margie, who would mess everything up whenever she sneezed. By the end, with Margie and her fantastic sneezes, this “troublesome” energy soon spilled out in comedic and unexpected ways, but now directed within a story, delighting everyone. This character became the foundation for our play. The creator was so happy and pleased with himself.

What about the children who run up to me on the first day of the session and shout with delight that “I’m going to be in drama and it’s going to be so much FUN!” Acting truly involves the spirit of play that makes one feel that they can soar as high as they want to.

What better tool can an individual have in life than to be in touch with their thoughts and feelings as they form their own moral compass and learn to navigate in the world? Not to mention possessing the confidence to turn his or her ideas and imagination into reality. This is what we do in Kids Act: encourage our students to manifest their talents and abilities through the joy of creative expression. Who knows, with this training, they might just become the next Jimmy Stewart...Meryl Streep....Marie Curie...or Steve Jobs.

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