By BRINTON WILKINS
Acting for elementary school children may not sound like the profession of choice for people majoring in theater. But for a group of students at BYU, audiences full of children offer something that adult audiences don’t — a child’s unpredictability.
Young Company is a group of theater students that travels to schools in the area to perform a full-length drama for the children.
Deric Nance, 25, a NewsNet employee and senior from Salt Lake City majoring in broadcast journalism, played the lead in last year’s production, “The Yellow Boat.”
Nance said a boy in the audience began repeating everything he said during one performance.
“Kids have a tendency to think that whenever they see acting, it’s TV,” Nance said.
This belief can make it difficult for the actors because the children don’t know how to behave during the show, he said. Sometimes the children are afraid to laugh because they think the teacher will be angry with them, he said.
Aside from difficulties posed by noisy or quiet audiences, acting for children has benefits, Nance said.
Children think that all actors are celebrities, he said. After one performance, a boy began following him around, he said.
“He thought I was all that,” Nance said.
But humorous experiences are not the only reason this group of actors does what they do. There are serious moments that affect the performers, said Megan Ann Scott, a graduate student in theater for young audiences and director of this year’s company.
Scott said she remembers one experience in particular. After one performance as the actors walked off the stage, a little boy in the audience said, “I wish I had a dad like the one in the play.”
Scott said that those thoughtful reactions are what make children’s theater so moving and fulfilling.
The performers hope to entertain the children, but more importantly, to inspire and educate them, Scott said.
“I like to believe that if you fuel their imagination that the education will follow,” Scott said.
The education comes from presenting serious topics in the play, she said. This year’s play, “Goodbye Marianne,” is the true story of an 11-year-old girl’s escape from Nazi Germany.
Despite the mature content of the play, Scott said that children embrace it as a story of hope and love.
Teachers who have seen Young Company agree that the experience is beneficial for the students.
Kappy William, a first-grade teacher from Bonneville Elementary in Ogden, saw last year’s production of “The Yellow Boat,” which was about a little boy who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.
“It taught my students to enjoy what they are doing right now, and to be kinder to others,” she said.
The content of the production was a little advanced for her first-graders, William said, but it did bring up good topics of conversation, such as happiness, kindness and death. It also helped to change some attitudes, she said.
“I had a couple of autistic boys in my class,” William said. “The other children began to treat them better.”
Because of the subject matter, the production was met withsome reservation, William said. Some of the teachers were nervous about the effect the production would have on the students, but no parents expressed concern, she said.
William said that the subject of the upcoming production will be good for her students.
“I think it’s important to help them understand what happened in the past,” William said.
Cyndi Ball, 19, a junior from Houston, Tex., majoring in theater, plays the lead in “Goodbye Marianne.” She said teaching children about World War II through theater, rather than just talking to them about it, helps them to understand history in a more personal way. Children will also understand the universal emotions presented in “Goodbye Marianne,” Ball said.
Young Company has developed an international reputation, Scott said. Last year Young Company took its show to an international children’s theater festival in Norway.