Posted by: reachdev | March 5, 2014

The Director’s Chair

After 11 years of leading a youth theater group (10 of them as director) I’ve hung up my beret and am moving on to other projects. As I tie a bow on this portion of my life, it seems fitting to reflect on what this experience has taught me. While working with children (ages 10 to 18) can be challenging, if a person keeps his mind open, he – meaning me- can still learn a thing or two.directorchair03

Give people time to grow. It is easy to form judgments of children that can color your perception of them for their entire lives. For example, there were two brothers that I initially met when they were about 6 and 8 years old. These boys were wild and fought all the time. It seemed that they were determined to wreak havoc on every rehearsal with their antics. While they weren’t consistently involved in our production, I was able to see them grow up into very courteous and thoughtful young men who are a joy to be around. Based on this and other experiences, I have learned to suppress my initial reactions about a person and allow them the time to learn and grow.

Creativity comes from competency. As our cast would go through their six weeks of rehearsals, we would find that after about two weeks, they had their lines down and knew where to move on the stage. Then we would go through a two week period where we would experience little or no growth in their characterization. The feeling quite often was that we wouldn’t get much better so why don’t we just get this show on the road! But then an wonderful thing would happen about 10 days before opening night. The actors would start to come up with entertaining and interesting bits for their characters to do. What we found was that until they had lived with their part for a period of time, they really couldn’t make the necessary improvements. These improvements were much more appropriate than those that they had come up with early in the rehearsal process. So I’ve learned that we have to spend a lot of time to develop real competency in an area, then valuable creativity can take place.

High standards increase the value of praise. Countless times during my 11 years with these children, mothers (never fathers) would approach me with the advice that I should praise the children more often so as to raise their self-esteem. In the nicest way possible I would tell these parents that when a child did something that I saw as praiseworthy, I would tell them so. And I would. I wish adults could see through BS as well as children do! Self-esteem doesn’t come from being told that I did well, when I didn’t. It comes from improving oneself and having that improvement recognized by someone we respect. I was a demanding director because I knew the actors could do better. When I eventually told them that they did something well, they knew it was true and not some hollow compliment. There is nothing wrong with being tough, but when someone accomplishes something, you better be just as vocal with your praise!

There are many more things I learned from this experience. Maybe I’ll find time to tell you more, but not today.

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