How to Speak to Your Children About Performances and Rehearsals in Grades K-8

I teach at a school with a very caring parent body. They love their children and value their educations.

I have learned over the years that, when you teach something like drama, parents are your students as well. They want to learn and understand what their children are learning. They have the need to understand the whys and the hows of our work in the drama classroom in order to understand how drama is a valuable part of the student’s education.

Here is a letter I wrote to families after I heard of some unfortunate comments from some well-meaning parents. People had a very favorable response and the parents seemed delighted to have a clearer roadmap for performance and rehearsals in school.

Dear Families,
I want to write and give you an update on what is going on in rehearsals for our play,
“The Gods Must Be Hazy” written by Dana and Edmond O’Brien with music by Diana Gokce.

Second and Third Graders will do a pared down version of the musical.
Fourth and Fifth Graders will do a longer, more detailed version of the play.

I expect children to memorize their lines. I will sit in the front row with a prompt book in case they need a line. It’s actually less nerve-wracking to do a show that you have memorized than to depend on your script. Only Narrators in the 2/3 version will use their scripts.

We are rehearsing in the following way during your child’s regularly scheduled music class:

I give each child his blocking (blocking is where an actor moves and stands while onstage during each moment of the play.)

While we “block” the play I say each person’s lines and the child repeats the line in character. As we go about staging the play, we talk in an age-appropriate way about why each character wants what he/she wants, and why it is hard for the child’s character to get what s/he wants. They are receiving direction, but they don’t really realize it until it becomes part of their rehearsal routine.

We are rehearsing the play in Carlson Auditorium so each child has a strong sense of comfort within the performance space.

While the students are learning lines and blocking, they are refining their understanding of the relationships between characters in the play, the conflict and the pace of the piece without the encumbrance of a script in their hands.

I chose this read aloud and repeat method because I believe it builds confidence in the children. They learn their lines without knowing they are learning lines while they move about onstage. The older students (grades 3-5) write down their blocking for each scene at the end of rehearsal or as they work on the script for homework.

So what can you do? How can you help your young artist?

Try some of the following ideas.

Ways To Help Your Child Prepare For The Play

1. “Hold the script” for him to reinforce memorization. Without judgment, repeat the correct line when he gets stuck or gets the line wrong. Congratulate him if he gets a scene “off book” without using his script.

2. Show your child how to find the recordings of the music and/or the script through my blog or Mrs. G’s blog.

3. Ask if he has looked at or listened to his script today.

4. Listen to the recorded music with your child (see our blogs.)

5. Listen to the recorded script with your child (see our blogs.)

6. Ask your child how you can help him with his preparation for the play.

7. Ask your child to tell you about something funny that happened in rehearsal.

8. After a practice session with your child, make no judgments. Respond to “How was it (Mom, Dad, Grandma)?” with a question, “What part are you most proud of? Or “What went really well? If your child asks your opinion of how he is doing in his role, ask him how he feels he is doing. Is he working hard and following directions? Is he staying focused in rehearsals? Is he learning his lines for his homework? Placing the focus on your child’s estimation of his work will reinforce the notion that you respect his opinion.

9. Tell the truth without being hurtful. Children know when you are telling them something that isn’t true—

“No one noticed when you made that mistake in your song.”

Don’t fib, kids can smell a white lie a mile away. Perhaps you might try,

“That mistake was a small moment in a wonderful evening. Everyone makes mistakes.”

10. When debriefing a performance with your child, focus on what you have actually seen and heard. For example,

“Zeus made the story clear to us.”
“I laughed when _________ did the scene about ____________.”
“I could hear everything ____________ said onstage.”
“I loved listening to your song.”

Pitfalls To Avoid With Your Young Artist

1. Refrain from commenting on the size of your child’s role. “You have a big (or a small) part in this play!”

2. Make no value judgments about your child’s singing or acting. Truly, every child in the performance will have overcome hurdles to perform in front of an audience. Every young artist will bring something special to the show.

3. Refrain from negative comments about another child’s work onstage. We don’t comment on other people’s work in rehearsal or in class. Your child knows that commenting on another child’s work is not an appropriate choice.

4. Don’t unknowingly promote stage fright. Refrain from asking if your child is nervous or by suggesting that he might be nervous. Preparation is the best way to promote confidence onstage. I have found that kids are often excited, but they know that if they have done their homework, then they know the job they have to do in the play and they do it. It becomes more of an adventure than a hurdle or a hardship to overcome.

As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Lizanne Wilson, Drama Specialist

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