Theater for tots to teens

Looking for a way to stop your kids from acting out in your house? Try putting them on stage. Chicago theaters offer numerous ways for children as young as 3 to become involved in the theater, from summer camps to classes and day-long programs.

“Being part of a drama and ensemble is a great way to be a part of a team,” says Christa Jensen, the education director at the Raven Theater."It also helps with social development and building confidence.”

If you think your child is ready for the bright lights, try letting him audition at some of the local theaters such as Northlight, Lifeline or Emerald City, which all also offer classes for kids. Opportunities to try out for plays are publicized on their Web sites when roles for children are available. And your child doesn’t need to have experience to give it a try.

“It’s always a good idea to start with a class,” says Devon de Maya, the director of the Northlight Theater Academy."But we’ve had quite a few kids who audition without any experience and get a part.”

Facing the judges alone after preparing a song, poem or passage may seem intimidating, but auditioning often builds confidence. And the judges aren’t out to scare them away.

“We try to make the auditions a safe and comfortable atmosphere by chatting and asking them questions,” says de Maya."Often children are simply learning what auditioning means.”

Although kids don’t always snag a role, they might be up for an encore.

“Usually once a kid tries acting one time, they catch the bug and there’s no stopping them,” says Jensen.

Francis Limoncelli, the education director at Lifeline Theatre, reports an increase of 300 percent in its KidsOnStage summer drama camp over the past seven years.

“When you see shows like American Idol on TV, it shows that anyone can be a star and that’s great,” Limoncelli says."People are returning to a love of the theater again.”

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