I still remember a night of theatre I saw twelve years ago. The playbill is pinned to the corkboard in my office right now and I can still quote lines from the performance. Beginning to end, every part of the show was memorable. Did this transformative and meaningful night of theatre happen on Broadway? Were the actors well-known professionals? Was it a monster hit? The answers are no, no and absolutely. It was a double-bill performance of “Rumplestiltskin” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” performed by children in my hometown, which, to this day, doesn’t even have a stoplight.
August in Minnesota is a time of bustling activity, even way out in the sticks. Tourists flock in to enjoy the state’s natural beauty, fairs and festivals are in full swing and residents carve out as much time as possible to swim and fish and boat and recreate – kind of like Maine. I had been living in New York at the time and wanted to escape summer in the city by going home for a visit to a place where people knew what to DO with a hot summer day, so I chose a weekend in August, saved my money and flew home.
During my visit, my oldest and dearest friend Jessica called and asked if I wanted to go to see a play at the Little Theatre, which is a performance space in downtown New London after years of being a movie theatre and even the local high school’s gymnasium. I asked her what was playing, and when she told me that it was a night of dramatized fairy tales performed by children, I rolled my eyes. “I don’t know any of these kids or their parents! I got no skin in the game!” I said. “Just trust me,” replied Jessica, and I went.
The night of the show was coincidentally the first night of the great northeast blackout of 2003. Had I been back in my apartment in Queens, I would have been sitting in the dark or, worse, I could have gotten stuck on the subway. As it was, I was home in New London, MN, population 1066 – a town that on that night had more live theatre happening than in New York City. The theatre was packed, and not just with the families of the performers. It seemed like the whole town showed up on that night to watch these young actors.
Were the sets technical masterpieces? No. Were the costumes works of art? No. Were the performances outstanding? Yes, but not in the way that you’d think. There is something so special about watching a young person onstage. They may lack the polish that years of training provide, they may not fully understand how to embody their character, but young people don’t hold anything back when they’re onstage. They give everything they’ve got because they’re not weighed down by all of our adult baggage. It is kind of awe-inspiring to watch a group of people that are absolutely giving 100%. Even if they’re kids. Especially if they’re kids. That’s when you learn that everyone’s 100% is not the same, but it is the fact that they gave their 100% that matters. So even the shy little girl who barely squeaked out her lines got to hear from her adoring parents “We are so proud of you!”
Even if you have no “skin in the game,” I encourage you to go and see a youth performance some day. We have no shortage of school plays and community programs presenting dramatic works starring children, so look for one that strikes your fancy and go. I defy you not to enjoy it. Might I suggest Penobscot Theatre Company’s Dramatic Academy youth production of Shuddersome: Tales of Poe with performances October 30 at 5pm, 31 at 4pm and November 1 at 11am? Tickets for adults are $12 and youth are $8 and it’s appropriate for the whole family! But no matter which children’s show you choose to see, congratulate the cast on their bravery, their heart and their commitment because what they’re doing is no small thing.