Save The Drama For Your Mama: Why “Dramatic” Kids Aren’t Necessarily Theatre Kids

Save The Drama For Your Mama: Why
A “dramatic” moment from Dark of the Moon.
Photo Credit: Ross Davidson

When I’m meeting people and they find out I work primarily in youth theatre, I often hear the comment “Oh, my son/daughter/niece/friend would be awesome in a theatre company… They’re so DRAMATIC!”

Which makes me cringe inwardly.

You see, “dramatic” isn’t necessarily the best way to describe your child when trying to convince someone of their theatrical interest or potential.  In fact, when a director hears that someone is “dramatic,” we tend to want to run away and hide.  (Now, how’s that for dramatic?)  😛

Why?  Well, the word “dramatic” tends to evoke the image of a spoiled, bratty kid throwing a temper tantrum…  Someone who is fussy, picky, overly-sensitive and demanding… Someone who I probably won’t want to work with because I think they’ll be a diva.  There’s a huge difference between a child who enjoys play-acting, pretending, dancing and singing, and a child who could probably beat out Meryl Streep in the “Best Supporting Actress” category with their shenanigans.  I’d work with the former any day.  The latter… not so much.

I’ve worked with kids in a theatrical setting for a number of years, and here are some of the things I’ve found when working with so-called “dramatic” kids.

  • Dramatic kids tend not to do well in a theatrical setting because they don’t understand that theatre is a collaborative medium, and focuses on teamwork.  Dramatic kids tend to have a “me first” attitude and don’t like it or understand why they aren’t the centre of everyone’s attention all the time.
  • Dramatic kids are often “line counters” (those people who judge the size and importance of their part by the number of lines they speak), and whenever they’re in a crowd scene or aren’t actually speaking a line, they are totally bored and display the dreaded “dead-face,” A.K.A. a total lack of any emotion or caring about what’s going on in the scene.
  • Dramatic kids get upset when their costume isn’t the fanciest or sparkliest, or when someone else in the cast gets their costume first.
  • Dramatic kids also tend to create drama when there isn’t any occurring naturally.  They’ll complain about homework, their bf/gf, their cast and crew, the number of lines they have (I’ve heard this one go both ways; some people complain that they don’t have “enough” lines, while others complain that they have too many to learn!), they’re tired/hungry/bored… the list goes on and on.  It stresses out their fellow cast-mates.

So if you’re trying to talk up your kid to a director or other artistic staff member, I highly advise you to avoid the word “dramatic” when describing them.  Here are some words we’d love to hear instead:

  • Loves theatre
  • Hard-working
  • Creative
  • Thoughtful
  • Musical
  • Focused
  • Driven
  • Good student
  • Kind
  • Friendly
  • Dedicated
  • Eager
  • Loves learning

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  If you have a kid involved in the theatre, would you consider them “dramatic”?  Is being “dramatic” ever a good thing?  What about dramatic adults?  Share in the comments below?

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4 thoughts on “Save The Drama For Your Mama: Why “Dramatic” Kids Aren’t Necessarily Theatre Kids

  1. Fay

    Co-signed – although I didn’t entirely follow your point about Meryl Streep – wasn’t aware she was a pain in the ass diva? But, yes – the kids who are terrific in Drama class are quiet kids as often as they’re outgoing ones. Emotional literacy is key, as is the ability & willingness to make the imaginative leap to being another person. For all that you have to be able & willing to perform in front of other people, actively being All About Applause is more of a handicap than a virtue, because collaboration and sincerity are much more important.

    I have fallen into the habit of using the acronym POLICE when working on theatre skills with the kids, to help them think about the qualities that they need as an actor, and to recognise which of those qualities they’re using in different activities: Physical control, Observation skills, Listening skills, Imagination, Collaboration and Empathy. Being loud & outgoing (“Dramatic”) really isn’t a prerequisite, and depending upon your other qualities it can be a real hindrance.

    1. Good point — looking back on that sentence, I don’t think I was entirely clear about what I was trying to say. I have also never heard that Meryl was a pain in the ass! Perhaps I was thinking about her character in The Devil Wears Prada?

      I love your POLICE acronym! That really encompasses what theatre’s all about!

  2. Precisely. The class clowns, drama queens and other attentions seekers are self-absorbed and oblivious; whereas the quiet ones are the listeners and the observers with true insight into the human condition. The best actors I’ve worked with are the shyest of the bunch.

    1. It’s always interesting to get an insight as to why certain actors are there, isn’t it? I have also had some spectacular actors who were quiet and shy offstage, and dynamos onstage!

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