Helping kids as performers

Most parents know the futility of categorizing children.Label them shy and they suddenly bloom; single them out as poor mathematicians and they may become computer experts.

Special talents and characteristics dawning at unexpected times are a hallmark of youth. Yet, when it comes to performing before a public audience, most children fall into one of three types.

There are those who avoid performing as if it were poison. They don't even want a taste of it in an informal group.

The opposite type are those children who seem to be natural performers. They're at home on the stage, memorize easily, and quickly lose any sense of self-consciousness. Ten-year-old Allison Smith, the new Annie in the Broadway musical of the same name, is representative of this "talented" category. Mrs. Smith says her daughter, new to the acting world, has stamina to keep up with both her schoolwork and demanding theater schedule.

Most children, however, fall into a third group. While performing is not their favorite activity, they're willing to give it a try.

Whatever category children fit into, parents can have a key role in guiding their progress.

It's what parents don't do that helps the shy child. Don't push them into a portentous experience. Don't show disappointment because they won't perform. Perhaps children lack self-confidence because they were once pushed. Through a parent's love and patience, they may overcome stage fright.

Parents support talented children by offering outlets that develop their abilities. For instance, Mrs. Smith found several local plays that Allison could audition for after her acting talent was discovered last year. When Allison completed these local plays with success, she went on to Broadway auditions. Now serious acting lessons are planned simultaneously with her leading role in "Annie." "The whole family supports Allison," says Mrs. Smith.

Sandra Scarry, a piano teacher with 30 students, offers five ideas on helping a performer.

1. Start with small performances in a home with family or several other young people as the audience. Make it a happy occasion with light refreshments.

2. Help children prepare thoroughly for a performance. Have them show you exactly what needs memorizing or rehearsing.

3. Remind children to pause and count to 10 before beginning. This will help them to think, rather than rush into their number.

4. Children should look their best when performing.

5. Ask children why they are performing. Help them to see it's not to show off, but an opportunity to share with people who enjoy music. A sense of humility is basic.

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