We live in a society that is in a communication crisis. When children are at school, they are often in large groups (18-22) where being quiet and listening are prized. The problem with this, is that they don’t master the ability to express themselves effectively. When they get home, they are often in front of a screen. It is reported that children spend an average of two hours on screens per day.This creates isolation. How often have you sat in a restaurant and saw two people, both on their phones during a night out? Humans need genuine human connections to each other in order to thrive. We need deep authentic bonds because it is the glue that holds our communities together. Too often emotions like happiness and excitement are celebrated but we’re not teaching kids how to deal with the big difficult ugly emotions like grief, anger, sadness, frustration, awkwardness, wonder, curiosity, confusion, and disillusionment. We need to teach the youth of our nation how to use and understand every crayon in the color box not just their primaries. How do we go about doing that?
Our society represses negative emotions. In what public space is it acceptable for a child to stomp their feet or shout without some repercussion? Raise their voice? Slam a door? Without some channel for those emotions to go, this creates an emotional bottle of soda that has been shaken with the lid closed. There is nowhere for that pressure to be released. Sometimes it can manifest itself in different places like depression, anxiety, defiant behavior, or anger. The emotions must go somewhere. The performing arts allow youth to cope with those emotions in safe fictional circumstances and gives them the vocabulary to express them in a healthy way. They are encouraged and required to be emotional beings in a creative space where they are getting human interaction away from screens with mentors to guide them and educate them. They form authentic bonds with their peers and mentors.They are required to empathize with each other which is a key element of acting according to Stanislavski's method.
The ancient Greeks understood how essential it was to have this. The name they gave it was “catharsis” which is defined as “the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions”. Whether it is an audience member who experiences this through watching the action or an actor who experiences this through acting it out, the result is the same. We find ourselves refreshed and emotionally cleansed from all the mental gunk we’ve been carrying around inside our heads. The common experience draws us closer with those around us creating a support system and real sense of community.
My argument is that students need this but furthermore people need the performing arts as a channel for self expression. People need opportunities to connect with each other in a creative space. Theatre is an exercise in community building and peer bonding that no electronic game can replace. It stands alone as an interdisciplinary communal art form that brings us together. We need it more than ever. Support your local community theatre and arts programs in your schools.
Kristi Kargic is executive director for Footlights Community Theater based in Athens, AL. She is an elementary teacher with a lifelong love of performing arts. She strives to provide art in her home community at little to no cost to participants. Kristi is a published poet, playwright, and performing musician. Her motto is "if you build it, they will come."