Molly doesn’t look like Achilles. At 10, she’s shorter and slighter than many girls in her class. But that didn’t stop her from playing the Greek warrior in Homer’s The Iliad last spring. On stage, her sweet voice and disposition vanished, and she became ruthless, fearless, strong. “It’s fun to be mean and loud and use spears,” Molly says. “It’s something girls don’t get to do. It was hard at first, but I really surprised myself.”
The benefits of theater for girls are many. When society tells your daughter to be meek, theater can give her an outlet for her individuality—a chance to be heard, respected, and appreciated. Playwright Craig Wright, who’s created a girls theater group in Minnesota run by an all-female team, says, “In theater, girls often get to play roles that they wouldn’t be able to play normally. They can tap into feelings and behaviors they’re not typically licensed to experiment with.”
“When the girls did The Iliad, some parents felt a little queasy about the violence,” says Molly’s mother, Michelle. “But it gave the girls a chance to be fierce and shout and give battle cries when the world was telling them to be docile.”
Playing a character on stage also lets a girl see the world from someone else’s viewpoint, a crucial part of growing up. To move out of her own head for a time strengthens her capacity for empathy and tolerance. It also allows her to forget her own problems. “Last year when Molly was Achilles, she was a fourth-grader in a fourth- through sixth-grade class,” her mom explains. “She became quiet, and I think being Achilles was enormously helpful to her because she could be someone else for awhile. It definitely helped her be more confident.”
Acting can increase your daughter’s self-esteem in a number of ways. First, it teaches her to speak up clearly in front of an audience. Second, if she shies away from competition, it allows her to learn a challenging discipline and be part of a positive group without quite so much pressure. “The experience can also give girls more ammunition,” Wright says. “In the future, when someone tells them they can’t behave in a certain way because it isn’t gender appropriate, they might be better able to tap into their strengths to deal with the situation.”
In addition, being in a show allows your daughter to experiment safely with adulthood. Sarah Gioia, who will soon be directing Wright’s production of King Lear, says, “The girls like doing adult plays, and I prefer to direct plays a little beyond their reach emotionally. I’d rather have them reach too far than not enough.” Performing in plays with grown-up themes can also lead to good discussions about the story’s issues and lessons.
Theater’s advantages aren’t limited to acting, either. Many kids find their niche building sets, sewing costumes, or designing lighting. You might also encourage your daughter to shadow a director or stage manager, or to write her own play.
Whether she finds her confidence center stage or backstage, theater can give your daughter new tools for dealing better with the world around her.
Getting Her Into Theater
- Pique her interest by taking her to a few productions.
- Get a backstage tour to show her all facets of theater, and talk to her afterwards to gauge her interest and impressions.
- Call potential theater groups to ask: How long have they been in business? What age group do they focus on? What roles are available for girls?
- Kids Take the Stage: Helping Young People Discover the Creative Outlet of Theater by Lenka Peterson, Dan O’Connor, and Robert Coles. A parent-teacher guide to directing and producing teen and preteen shows.