(A women calms down her grandchildren before a public performance in the local House of Culture. Barabinsk, Novosibirsk region, 2009. Photo by Valery Klamm)
This morning while reading an article on every-day life in Siberia, I ran across the image above of children in a local theater and it reminded me of the many many days I spent growing up in the children’s theater in Trenton, MI. My mom signed me up for acting lessons there when I was six and until the time I was 12, I performed in at least two plays there a year. We were so little, but we did a damn fine job bringing Scrooge, Willie Wonka, The Hobbit, and other childhood favorites to life. :) And the most important thing was, we had fun doing it. There was no pressure to be famous, land a commercial, get an agent, or be anyone other than who we were – even on stage. We WERE encouraged to pretend, to try out new voices and different postures and sing – even if we couldn’t carry a tune. It was play at its grandest form – the kind you carry with you for the rest of your life, the kind that gives you a sense of adventure and courage to always try something outside your every day comfort zone. My mom signed me up initially because she thought I was a bit shy – which is really funny to all of us now – and because I’d been walking around since I was four telling people I was going to be a movie director.
Children’s theater, dance, puppet making is a home. A place for us to discover our creativity – not a reality tv or pop star factory. I performed in a play about Anastasia when I was 11 years old. I learned who she was, where she lived and what happened to her and why – about Russia, the other side of the world and its history. I had a lot of questions and my own thoughts. It was a good, solid base for an impressionable, young mind.
We had so much fun! The costumes we got to wear as urchins, witches, oompa-loompas were fantastic. We learned about stage direction and how to put on stage make-up. We ran around the theater in between shows playing Star Wars and crawled up into the attic and light booth – we knew every inch of the place. I even remember how it smelled.
Many of us who started there went on to pursue the arts professionally – I’m a filmmaker, Mary Lynn is a professional actress/comedian, and Andrew has been on Broadway. But the most important thing I think we gained from a place like the Trenton Theater (now called The Trenton Village Theater) is the confidence it gave us and the friendships it formed that are still going strong some 35 years later.
When we were all in high school there was talk of the theater being demolished. Ten of us teenagers showed up at the next city council meeting to fight for it and convince the city to keep it. And it worked! I’m sure there were other factors and meetings involved – but the theater stayed and still stands. Today, it’s home to a youth performing arts center and they host film screenings.
My point is, as young as we were, we made all our own decisions on how to use and explore and have fun with our imaginations. It was never decided for us. There was never any pressure or concern beyond the next show. It was truly a wide open field of creative freedom, in which many of us still play.
(the Trenton Village Theater today)