5 Easy Theatre Rules to Use When You Want to Connect with Your Kids through Playtime
I spend a lot of time doing life with my kids and the flow of conversation is constant. It's tough for an introvert like me, but it’s all part of building wonderfully rich connections that in turn allow me to shape the building of their character and faith. One of those elements that allows us to connect is good old fashioned, no agenda, play time. As a writer, director, producer, and actress my job is essentially playing make-believe. I’m a professional imaginer. Literally. When I “go to work” I open whatever project I’m working on, close my eyes and start imagining what might happen next, how, and why. You might think I’d be a natural playmate for my children. But I confess, sitting down with the Calico Critters to play with my six year old does not quite come naturally.
Sometimes it just feels like one more thing I have to do. Sometimes my brain is too tired. And sometimes, quite frankly, play time can get, well…dull.
Yikes! I said it! I must be a terrible parent! Aghhh!
Okay, Jaime, breathe! It’s okay to admit that another round of Barbies or Legos or dress up is not the most exciting part of your day – even if you’re a professional make-believe artist like I am. But if connecting with your kids is as important to you as it is to me, there are a few easy theatre rules you can use to turn a regular play time into fresh fun for both of you.
Rule #1: Consider playtime a workout for your imagination muscle.
Maybe this goes without saying, but I need to give myself permission to not follow the rules of good storytelling. Unicorns are allowed to have scales and breathe fire. It’s okay for the Medieval knight to jump in his jet powered spaceship and fly next door. It’s okay for Cocoa Bear to be a sweet sidekick character one day and a villain the next. The story does not need to come to a solid conclusion. It can end in a dance party. Which brings me to rule #2...
Rule #2: Listen to your scene partner
I want the scene to have a cohesive plot with a clear beginning, middle, and end. My daughter, who initiated this tea party to begin with, wants to run around the yard on her stick pony. You might think this means the tea party is over, but you would be wrong. She’s riding the pony, but in her mind it’s part of the tea party story line. My choice as the mom is to stop and explain the value of finishing one game before moving on to another (a good lesson in and of itself) or I can go with it. Stay engaged. Watch her race around on her pony while sipping my sugary air, and trust that whether we get back to the tea party plot or not, she is delighting in my undivided attention.
Rule #3: Yes, and…
The number one most important rule in improvisation is to respond to your partner with “yes, and…”. This means accepting the plot/character/situation they have just put forward and adding to the scene by taking things in their next logical direction. In playtime it means accepting the curve balls and throwing in a few of your own.
Using our teatime scenario as an example, she offers me salt for my tea. Instead of explaining that we put sugar in our tea, I say, “yes, I will take salt in my tea. Don’t you know? I’m from the Isle of Salt and we put salt on everything!”
Rule #4: Repeat after me
If your brain just can’t handle anymore creativity (and sometimes mine can’t!), simply repeat what your little partner says. Not in the annoying “Shadow game” way your brother or sister used to do to you, but in the Repetition exercise way.
Child: I’m a princess astronaut!
Mom: You are a princess astronaut!
Child: You are a pirate.
Mom: I am a pirate. Argh!
Half the time my kids wind up telling me what to say next anyway, so all I have to do is let go and say it!
Rule #5: Secretly use the time to practice your actual theatre skills
Playtime is a great way to work without working! Develop your accents, characters, storytelling skills, and back story development. Sure your kid is only five. That doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate an attempt at an authentic Russian dialect! If character voices come naturally to you (or even if they don't!), practice sustaining them through different emotions and volumes. Play around with pronunciation, or trying juggling different characters! Puppetry is a marketable skill that takes practice. Watch a couple of videos on proper hand technique and put them to use the next time you're playing. My kids are always delighted when I spontaneously put on a new character and it elevates the mundane playtime to a whole new level of fun.
Your imagination is a tool that needs to be exercised as much as your voice and body. Who knows? Maybe the pirate is the hero and maybe he does fly around in his space suit. You never quite know how the scene is going to play out, which leaves you open to the wide array of possibilities. The more comfortable you are trying new things, even if they seem goofy, the more prepared you will be to take risks in rehearsal. Beyond that, using these simple theatre rules in playtime keeps you engaged, allowing you to forge meaningful connections with your kids they will not soon forget.