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Children - The Influence Of The Drama

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The drama has always held a position of special distinction in its relation to the imagination of the race. It was the first great instrument of instruction and communication of ideas in a time when men had none of the aids in making their thoughts known to each other that they now have. The people used to gather about the traveling players with a childlike delight which cannot be matched in twentieth century civilization. And when the players were not to be had, a wandering minstrel, with his pack of tales and jests, songs and travelogues, took much the same place. Simple folk who had never stepped beyond the confines of their own villages could learn of the wonders of the great world through these agencies, and they made much of the privilege.

In our own generation, the theatre of entertainment fills a similar place, though not the correspondingly greater one which the lapse of time would seem to suggest. We may now see current history enacted on the screen, and appreciate the importance of events as if we had been present on the very occasion. Photography has made possible the representation of scenes and places which have never before been available for the great mass of the people. And, in general, this has been accomplished at a cost which places it within the reach of the masses of the people. Dramas which could formerly be seen only in the large cities are now translated into the motion-picture films, which travel everywhere at slight expense. There is no longer any reason why any child should be deprived of the imaginative increment which the stage gives.

This increment is of two sorts. In part it comes from the new ideas which are introduced by the subject-matter of a play, and in part from the sheer beauty of production, which visualizes so much for the child mind. The parent must make serious and thoughtful selection among the possible productions for his child to witness, for many of them are far from wise choices for a child, from any point of view; but it is nevertheless possible to discover pictures and dramas which materially enrich the mind-stuff of a child.

First choice of all is, naturally, the great body of classic English drama which is all too seldom performed on our stage. It is unfortunately a difficult matter for parents, even where there is no lack of means, to give this opportunity to their children. The next best thing is to read these same dramas aloud, with as much assistance from remembered performances as the parents are able to utilize. This, indeed, should always be the preliminary to a performance at which the child is to be a spectator.

When this is not possible, the wise use of the motion-picture opportunities is to be recommended. In answering all the questions that arise in this connection, the parent must be guided by his or her own best judgment of the particular child. Some children are more sensitive than others to special subjects. With some, the visualizing of a favorite story say "Treasure Island" —will have the effect of preventing them from reading the hook—a result which should at all costs be avoided. For others it may give the necessary incentive to the accomplishment of a difficult task. There is no possible rule in the matter, save the simple one of the excellence, beauty, and general fitness of the production.

It must never be forgotten that the stimulus of the stage is largely on the visual side, especially for children; and that while it expands the imaginative faculties on the one hand, it also contracts them, by limiting them in their range. This is the reason why the educational value of the stage is, on the whole, limited to rather older children. It is well to keep the theatre in the realm of high and special pleasures until the child is well past the ten-year mark, at least.

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