Keeping Play in Drama

School will be out soon and educational institutions, arts groups, and parks and recreation departments are busy organizing camps and activities to keep the young ones safely and positively occupied during summer break. Whether you are an arts expert or a theatre neophyte, drama with kids may seem daunting. But the truth is, there are few activities more fun and exciting for kids than dressing up in costumes, creating a set and acting out a play.

The key to a successful drama activity with young participants is simplicity and child-directed play. Choose a script that provides a variety of characters that allow a diversity of skill levels from roles that drive the action to roles that can be expressed though movement and mime without words. A child reluctant to speak in front of others can still successfully express a character through movement, expression and sound. It is important for the program leader to assess the strengths of each child so that every participant has an opportunity to shine.

The more self-directed play the better. Provide children with the materials to create and encourage them to express their ideas and work together to realize their vision. Forget about building elaborate sets. A child having the opportunity to create a tree from the cardboard core of a carpet roll or a costume from a tub of miscellaneous cloths is substantially more rewarding then adults sawing and nailing wood together. It’s not how professional the set looks, it’s how imaginative and engaged the kids play that reflects the success of a drama activity.

Don’t expect to teach the kids everything there is to know about drama in one or two weeks. Even if the activities are sponsored by a theatre or arts organization, it’s important to remember that performance is a skill that takes years of training to develop. Choose a reasonable perimeter of drama skills to introduce. Use theatre games and improvisation to practice the skills. Keep it fun. Rehearsing a script over and over trying to produce a polished performance piece in a short period of time can be stressful. A presentation for parents of short scenes or improvs allows kids to show off what they’ve learned while keeping the performance playful.

One of the best ways to integrate drama as one component of a broader camp is to select a comprehensive theme and use drama as a tool to explore that theme. Encourage the children to write their own play or monologues about the theme and create a playing environment to present their work. Themes like “Saving the Rainforest” and “The Art of Recycling” provide exceptional opportunities for young people to creatively explore social issues through drama. And they won’t even know they’re learning. After all, when school is out it’s time to play!