I had the pleasure of watching my eleven year-old niece in a production of Mulan yesterday. Watching the cast, literally scores of kids, eleven to thirteen, I had a variety of observations.
I love theatre. It has been too long since I saw anything live and I need to do it more often. When the lights go down I am exhilarated by the moment, sitting in the dark, watching an artificial universe revealed and then inhabitied, as I share a spectrum of emotions with an audience full of strangers.
Mulan showcased the singing abilities of the leads and the numerous numbers provided a lovely platform involving the thousands of kids on stage.
Watching the production I realized most kids can’t act. Almost all of the actors on stage were simply reading their lines, trying to remember where to stand. With few exceptions most of the kids spoke leadenly, mechanically racing through speeches. The kids most comfortable in the spotlight instinctively knew how to connect, even in the darkness. Their success was driven by charisma, not acting.
All in all, it was a fine day of the theatre.
Why can’t most kids act? My theory is they’re still too honest. They lack the sense of shame that teaches one to hide their true selves, instead, projecting a different version of who they are outwardly.
Speaking of projecting, I am going to offer a caveat. Child development isn’t my field. I base my conclusions solely on my own experiences and observations. I also don’t mean to creat a syllogism that the best actors are those with the most shame, which I suspect is not the case. I’m suggesting kids have such an obvious connection to authenticity, acting, a form of lying is a learned skill not yet learned.
From a child’s innate ability to hear what is being communicated, despite what words are used, to their own cute attempts to mislead, most kids are obvious when embracing anything other than the truth.
Not so much for adults.
I took an acting class in college. For an entire semester I tried to inhabit a soul other than mine for a minute or two or five. In the entire semester, twice a week for ninety minutes at a time, I failed miserably. Except for once. In one single improv for five minutes. I became someone else. It was at that moment for the first time I appreciated the distinction between acting and entertaining.
Now decades later, I am trying to learn to let go of my bad acting, to reconnect with my authenticity, a connection waylaid by decade of shame. By the end of the production yesterday, I was savoring the tens of thousands of kids standing on stage, smiling reminders of my own journey as they basked in the applause of appreciative parents, grandparents, and the occasional uncle.
Thanks for listening. Stay in touch. Connect.
P.S. Yes, that’s a picture I took of the Mulan production.
P.P.S. I thought about a Mulan clip but then I stumbled across this scene from Ten Things I Hate About You and a wonderful moment showcasing the late Heath Ledger’s talent.