The following article appeared in the January 9, 2012 edition of The New Britain Herald. I wrote it as Executive Director of New Britain Youth Theater to highlight NBYT programs and promote upcoming auditions for Cinderella.
Our Christmas play last month, I’m Getting Nothin’ for Christmas, centered around a group of young friends visiting the North Pole where they met roughly three dozen elves, eight reindeer, and Santa himself. Programs for the coming summer will include the musical Seussical and the magical characters of Dr. Seuss, including Horton the Elephant, the Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz, the Whos of Whoville, and more. And the next NBYT production, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, is possibly the most magical fairy tale of all. (Both Cinderella and Seussical even have songs titled It’s Possible!)
As a story about a sad girl and her magical transformation, Cinderella exists in thousands of different versions and folktales around the world. (And the main character isn’t even a girl in all of them!) The story has been told by generations of families, written and rewritten, and adapted into plays, musicals, operas, ballets and films. The Cinderella legend is a story the world never grows tired of hearing.
But aside from a fairy tale, does Cinderella mean much to us anymore? Very few of us go to balls or ever have the chance to meet a prince or princess. And we don’t believe that a fairy godmother can magically appear and change our lives with the wave of a wand. But there certainly are things that can change our lives for the better. The arts are one of them—especially for children.
When researchers working with the nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts studied several different children’s programs and activities, they found that young people working in the arts during their out of school hours are four times more likely to have won school-wide attention for academic achievement; they are being elected to class office within their schools more than three times as often; they are three times more likely to win an award for school attendance; and they are over four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or a poem (Americans for the Arts, 1998). By participating in artistic activities and programs outside of their education, children learn to become leaders and responsible members of their communities, of the organizations they take part in, and of their own families. They learn discipline, respect for themselves and others, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Participation in theater especially teaches children and young adults to be both creative decision-makers and team players working together to reach one goal. Another study found recently that students who participate in arts education programs are less likely to drop out of school than students who do not participate in the arts (The Center for Arts Education, 2009). By inspiring their creativity and giving them a way to express themselves, the arts reach the students who might otherwise become drop-out statistics. And if that’s not magical, I don’t know what is.