Almost 20 years.
That’s how long The People’s Theatre Company has been running a blog.
And that’s how long I’ve got away without writing one.
But today all that ends. Word has come down from the top dog, the big cheese, the boss man, the gaffer and that word says it’s my time, so here I am. A world first.
Guess I’d better make it good!
In writing circles the number one rule is Write What You Know, so I thought I’d make this about something I share with the audience who come to see our shows: parenthood.
Or, more specifically, how I see theatre fitting in with all the other obligations, machinations and ramifications of being a parent to young kids.
So to start with, I should note that I have two kids myself: Jack, who is ten, and Molly, who is 4. Some of you may have seen Molly playing live action Natascha in our 2021 tour of How The Koala Learnt To Hug, and others may have caught Jack signing books with me after Don’t Dribble On The Dragon, which he insisted was only fair since the book, and by extension the show, was written for – and is about – him.
It’s not critical that you’ve seen them mind you, except inasmuch as it provides proof of life. See, it’s important for this blog that you know I really do have two kids.
And just like your kids, mine want feeding, watering and entertaining.
So how do I entertain them?
Well, probably no differently from you. I take them to the park, I play games with them, I crack jokes and read books and run around after them but mostly, for my kids, entertainment in my house means video games, telly and drawing.
Now, drawing I like. You end up with something colourful and heartwarming and you get to stick it on your fridge. I don’t even particularly mind the video games and TV, in moderation, but here’s the thing. I promise you, I mean I absolutely guarantee to you, that in terms of entertainment value none of these things are a patch on a good bit of theatre.
I mean, worst case, you’re going to want some theatre in the mix.
And here’s why.
Video games and TV rot your brain…
I’m kidding. That’s just what my mum used to say, and that was most probably a desperate attempt to peel my eyeballs off the Binatone (an early games console, later replaced in our house by the ZX84 and eventually an Atari).
However, studies have shown that — aside from developing hand-eye coordination — video gaming has limited developmental value (and I’m not talking about some of the excellent educational titles provided by the BBC and others here).
My two kids like Minecraft, and I happen to think that Minecraft is pretty good. You can play in teams, it’s creative and you have to learn stuff to progress; but as a shared experience it’s kind of limited, and as a fantasy you have to commit to learning things about an imaginary world when your time might be better spent learning things about the real world.
For example, how many times have we watched our children spend a hundred hours perfecting a scissor kick in FIFA Pro, and pondered how easily they could have mastered the real thing if only they’d spent that time in the garden with a real ball instead?
Developmentally, then, most video games are a bit of a bust.
Which leads us to other screen pastimes: TV and devices.
My kids love their devices – or rather my devices. Molly likes to watch carefully curated Instagram videos before bed, and Ruby and Bonnie in the morning; whilst Jack zones out watching gaming advice videos on YouTube.
Again, there is definitely some limited benefit to screen time — especially when it touches on the educational — but it is largely considered to be a way of shutting the world off. In small doses this can be a positive, even meditative, thing but for developmental health every expert agrees that children should be encouraged to explore, investigate and participate in the real world.
And besides, whilst there are times when I want to take a break from my kids (and God bless screens for providing that), the majority of the time, I want to be an active part of their lives and spend time with them.
And that’s where theatre comes in.
You see, the vast majority of theatre for young people is interactive. Our stuff, by way of example, is tremendously interactive. In fact, I Spy With My Little Eye was created with child development experts to be a play that kids and their families can quite literally “play”.
And that’s healthy.
Not that your little ones would know it. It’s a bit like hiding vegetables in their bolognese. All they know is that they love it, and we can feel great about it because we know that they’re getting all the good stuff that they need to grow up happy and well.
Health by stealth they call it. And if they don’t then they should, cos that’s a darn good little phrase.
So family theatre is healthy, but I can’t emphasise enough that, above and beyond that, it is also brilliant fun. You only have to look at some of the reviews for How The Koala Learnt To Hug to see that.
“Perfect family entertainment”
“Your kids will want to hug you for taking them to see this lovely show”
“As good as a Roald Dahl book”
“By turns funny, charming and off the wall”
Shows like ours, which are made especially for children to enjoy with their grown ups, offer one of the few opportunities we get to genuinely have a shared experience with our kids. To laugh with them, play with them, and be moved with them in equal measure.
And better yet, when we leave the theatre we are closer than we were before we entered. A shared emotional experience has occurred, and a beautiful memory of time spent together has been created.
And you don’t get that from an iPhone.
So what am I saying? Am I saying that you can’t be a good parent if you don’t take your kids to the theatre?
Of course not.
But taking your children to the theatre is definitely a tool in the toolkit of great parenting. So if you’re a great parent and you’ve not gone to a play or a musical with your family before, try it. I’m pretty certain you’ll like it.
So there you have it, my little blog on the benefits of theatre.
I said I’d best make it good.
How’d I do?