I assume every kid thinks his own family is normal and that it defines normality. Maybe our first experiences of diversity in society come from our encounters with other families: bedtime in another household shows us that some families do pajamas then teeth, others, teeth then pajamas.
Tolstoy famously said that all happy families are the same, while every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. It’s a great quote, but I think it begs the question of happiness. Were you happy, as a kid? Was anyone?
A child’s life— any child’s life— is dramatic: acrophobic flights of hope, and dizzying tailspins of embarrassment and delusion.
I sometimes perform a play about my childhood, SUPERMAN & ME, which is built on those flights. In one scene, I describe the first time I went onstage with a speaking role.
The play was The Golden Goose. I was seven years old, and I was very proud of the four lines I had to deliver. Unfortunately during the play I endured such a deeply embarrassing moment, that I forgot my fourth line, which of course embarrassed me even more. As I tell it, I was so traumatized by the experience, that from that day to this I can’t remember what my fourth line was supposed to be.
Recently I performed SUPERMAN & ME, and afterwards a 10 year-old spectator asked me, “What was the missing fourth line?” I told her I truly don’t remember, and turned her question back to her, asking, “What do you think my fourth line was?” She didn’t hesitate: “I think your fourth line was this whole play, that you’re doing now.”
I think that girl will probably become a writer, maybe a director. Theater has an incredible capacity to channel our fears, to give shape to our shapeless joys. I feel very fortunate to have practiced theater when I was very young. I don’t think I was particularly talented, but I was very dedicated. Somehow I recognized that theater would shape my life, would keep me sane over the years.
Children have an amazing empathetic capacity to step into another’s shoes, and theater gives them the opportunity to manifest that empathy. Of course adults can do this too, but children are so much more flexible.
I’m very sorry that theater isn’t given more space in school, as it is a powerful tool for perceiving the world actively, as actor. All the more reason, that we at la Luna practice theater with children. The child’s capacity to enter the sensibility of another— whether that other be a person, a tree, or a cloud— is a skill which can bring joy and wisdom through a long life.
And offer joy and wisdom to the world. Our intention, in our Family Outing Theater, is to give children the opportunity to play with, and for, their families, creating a new, more interesting “family norm.”
In the words of William Wordsworth, “The Child is father to the Man.”