The great comedian W.C. Fields once said “Never work with animals or children.” I strongly agree!
The 6-12 year-olds are theatrically immature. They don’t treat their scripts with sacred reverence; they underestimate stage chemistry; they lack comedic timing, they lack dramatic timing; they lack timing… They have minimal spatial awareness, they make eye-contact with the floor, the ceiling, the wall, a moth… anything but their scene partner. Giving them a direction to follow is like playing the lottery – you know you won’t hit the jackpot, but deep down you’re hoping to be pleasantly surprised.
They may forget their lines, the blocking may be –to say the least- “off” at times, many meaningful words may be directed toward the thin air, but at the end of the day, they are being themselves; they are being their quirky, nervous, sweet selves. It’s funny how one of the most important lessons in acting is be comfortable with yourself. The children aren’t self-conscious about delivering their lines with conviction, they aren’t worried if their “good side” is facing the audience, they aren’t concerned about diction and projection…
And that’s what I like the most about teaching improvisation to the kids. My objective is to not let their fears develop into insecurities. Nip it in the bud, drama-style, as it were.
I always tell them: “Don’t try to be funny, as long as you’re truthful. Truth is entertaining. Concentrate! Wherever you are, be there!” And they’re there, in the moment, exposed to the energy of the audience and heat of the spotlights. They react organically; every spontaneous move and adorable awkwardness is clear in their eyes and body language.
And sometimes, just sometimes, within all the nervousness and childlike innocence, the stars will be aligned and a truly sincere and heartfelt moment -which is worth every bit of tremble in their voice and look of loss in their eyes- will emerge on stage for everyone to admire and marvel at. Jackpot.