What Happens When Kids Say, “Let’s Put on a Show!” Today

Hi yitkdhtats
folks! This post comes to us from  Jay P. Greene, the  21st Century Professor of Education Reform. at the University of Arkansas. It’s great to think that someone immersed in education reform is thinking about how important it is for kids to do things on their own, outside the classroom.

Putting On a Show, by Jay P. Greene

It was a staple of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies that kids from the neighborhood would get together to “put on a show.”  Someone would get the curtains, someone would build the set, and – after some practice – they would perform a play.  Of course, these movies were works of fiction, but they were based on a kernel of truth.  Kids do like to get together, dress up in costumes, and put on shows.  They tend not to be as good as those in the movies, but kids will organize theater performances by themselves if left to their own devices.

But because kids aren’t left to their own devices as much these days, it is remarkably rare to find young people organizing theater performances by themselves.  Instead, these tend to  be part of a school or youth theater activity organized and supervised by adults.  Those can be very positive experiences, but kids don’t learn the responsibility and creativity they could from putting on shows themselves.

Happily, theater organized by young people has not disappeared entirely.  In the middle of America’s heartland, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a group of adolescents have formed New Threshold Theatre, which is run completely by young people without adult sponsorship or supervision.  My youngest son has joined the group and I’ve been incredibly impressed with the professional quality of their productions.

This year they performed the Broadway musical Into the Woods, and have four more shows planned, including two original works written by kids.  Last year they produced the Broadway musical 13, and had a live sketch comedy show on local television.  They’ve also started a film production company, Archway Productions.

They have done all of this by themselves.  They’ve secured their own performing spaces, sometimes using unused business spaces or renting an auditorium.  They find their own costumes and build their own sets.  They select the works to be performed, cast the actors, and direct the shows.  They even have their own dramaturg.

And all of this is being done by young people.  No one told them to do it.  It is not a school club.  They don’t get grades or class credit.  There are no adult advisers.   It is simply a group of kids who have gotten together to form a theater and video company completely for the fun of it.

I don’t think there is anything else quite like New Threshold Theatre out there these days.  Maybe if we structure our kids a little less, we might open up more opportunities for them to organize amazing things for themselves. That would be something to sing about!  

Let's put on a show...without adults!

Let’s put on a show…without adults! (Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland back then, and the New Threshold Theatre in Arkansas today.)

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14 Responses to What Happens When Kids Say, “Let’s Put on a Show!” Today

  1. Crystal November 5, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    Love it! I have an upcoming article coming out about a 10-year-old boy who created and runs his own soccer camps for preschoolers and young elementary kids, and it got me to thinking: could you have a normal part of your column where once a month you highlight a Free Range kid doing something awesome?

  2. Emily Morris November 5, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    This is delightful.

  3. Jen (P.) November 5, 2014 at 9:59 am #

    Great story! Makes me think of the Little Rascals and the shows they’d stage too.

    My teenaged daughter is part of a high school community theater group that is for all intents and purposes unsupervised. They do have to have an adult sponsor around for liability reasons but the kids choose the plays they perform and handle every part of the production. Fantastic learning experience in so many ways and they absolutely love it.

  4. Havva November 5, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    What a cool group.

    I still have fond memories of the time my teacher set out a pile of scripts, told us a date that the theater was rented for and let us volunteer for time slots to do our productions. My group usually practiced in the spare classroom next door, with no adults. While others used the playground. It might not have been our most “successful” school theater production, but it belonged to us and helped stoke a love of theater. I think this was a factor in why, later on, I joined the adult theater group, rather than the high school school one. After you have been a full responsible participant, it is hard to go back to being a pawn.

    I like Crystal’s idea to regularly highlight cool things that kids do on their own.

  5. Practical Mama November 5, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    Great story! Kids are capable of doing so many great things if adults let them be.

  6. librarian November 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    Lenore, just wanted to bring another good essay on the general “United States of Fear” subject to your attention.

  7. Steve November 5, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    Glad you posted this, Lenore. Perhaps you could have a prominent part of your website showcasing what kids are doing without adult supervision. The section could be divided into several categories.

  8. J- November 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    Somebody better teach those kids to make lattes and wait tables wile they are waring for their big break.

  9. fred schueler November 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    a few years ago home-schooled kids in and around Kemptville, Ontario, put on a fully-featured production of a play one of them had written about Joan of Arc, and played to full audiences

  10. Margot November 5, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    Fantastic story. What a great bunch of movers and shakers.

    Yes, it’s a pity there’s not more of this. However, there is the modern tech-driven equivalent. My kids are constantly making music videos and movie trailers with the iPad. Some of them are not too bad either. It’s the one time I truly embrace the concept of “screen-time”.

  11. Jenny Islander November 5, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    My older two and a couple of neigbhor kids are making a zombie film.

  12. Flurry November 6, 2014 at 6:56 am #

    Why are so many people all of a sudden telling Lenore what to do with her site? 🙂

  13. lollipoplover November 6, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    I also love to hear these *good news* free range kids stories. Seems they are few and far between with all of the bad news out there.

    Remember the story Lenore put up about Caine’s Arcade (he built an entire arcade from cardboard boxes)?
    For his engineering class, my son is working on the challenge:

    And I know this is at school and not entirely on their own, but the whole thing started with this remarkable 9 year-old boy and now my son’s favorite thing to do at school is work on his group’s Claw Game. Please keep sharing these inspiring, kid-driven success stories!

  14. Cynthia812 November 7, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    This is only about half an hour from where I live. I’ll have to check it out.