The theater may be a place where art imitates life, but for kids, it can be a place where art teaches life.

From just plain having fun to learning skills they will use well into adulthood, children can benefit from theater in numerous ways, local experts agree.

“Theater matters more today than ever because connection is key to life, and theater connects actors to each other, performers to audience and art to life,” says Melissa Diller, director of Maumelle-based Drama Kids of Little Rock. “Theater is about helping the kid in the back of the classroom have the confidence to ask a question so that they have the courage to share their brilliant ideas in the board room one day.”

While the stories played out on stage can inform and entertain, the behind-the-scenes work it takes to bring a production to the stage offers kids so much more.

“Theater skills are life skills,” says Anna Kimmell, director of education at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. “Theater hones your ability to creatively problem solve, empathize with others, collaborate with peers, feel confident in yourself, speak in public, analyze language, follow directions, focus. … The list goes on and on.”

Benefits of Theater for Kids

• Problem solving

• Empathy

• Learning to take and follow direction

• Confidence

• Language skills

• Public speaking

• Creativity

• Outlet for play

• Motivation and engagement

• Collaboration

The Rep offers theater training throughout the year for all age groups, from kindergarten to adult. Through after-school theater classes, arts workshops, day camps, outreach, summer program, student matinees and other performance opportunities, the Rep reaches over 7,500 students in Arkansas annually.

Drama Kids capitalizes on the school setting to teach kids about theater. Affiliated with Drama Kids International, Drama Kids of Little Rock serves the Little Rock School District, Pulaski County School District and North Little Rock School District, frequently using classrooms as a stage for performances, exercises, training and more.

“We have programs for ages 4-18 offered in select schools for one hour per week after school throughout Pulaski county,” Diller said. “Activities include speech, movement, improvisation, scripts and theater games. We have a one-act spring performance at the end of the school year to showcase the skills they have learned. All students are on the stage the entire time with each student having lines. There are no auditions and every student is a star.”

Additional local opportunities for kids exist at the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre not to mention productions put on by local churches and community theaters, among others.

The important thing is to get kids involved. Not only will they develop the confidence to step before an audience — and all the related skills and attributes that come with that experience — they will learn of places, people and events far beyond what they have seen in life so far.

“We like to say that theater is an empathy gym — a place you go to learn about different people and points of view,” Kimmell said.

Age-appropriate Opportunities

Ages 1-5

Early ages are involved through play with friends and parents to learn vocabulary and emotions. Kindergarteners can attend classes, summer programs and take part in end-of-year spring productions.

Ages 5-9

Students can begin auditioning for community theater, school plays and church productions. Summer camps allow them to continue to practice the skills learned throughout the school year. There are also year-round classes for elementary students, guest artist workshops and day camps.

Ages 10-15

As they advance in script and character analysis and auditioning skills, students are encouraged to continue auditioning for local productions in school, church or community theater and to attend summer camps or take part in summer theater productions. They are ready for more advanced, year-round classes and workshops and have numerous opportunities to attend local productions and see what they are learning put into practice.

Shows Every Kid Should See

"There are so many wonderful shows to choose from, it's hard to pick. I recommend the classic musicals: 'Music Man,' 'Sound of Music,' 'Oliver,' 'The Wizard of Oz.' … All of these are also available to watch as films, but live theater is more magical for young audiences. If you're looking for a live performance in Arkansas, there are many theaters with programs for kids and families. 'Willy Wonka Jr.', for example, will be performed by a company of young artists at The Rep this summer."

- Anna Kimmell, director of education at The Rep

See more of A Parent's Guide to Visual Art, Music & Theater in Central Arkansas