Lessons Learned from Middle School Theater


I recently acted as the musical director for a middle school theater production.

While I have a lot of theater experience, there were still plenty of lessons for me to learn. I enjoyed spending time with my son and his classmates, and more importantly, they all enjoyed the experience as well. As an introvert, theater has really helped me find my voice and confidence over the years. Here are more lessons that can be taken from the world of theater:

Everyone is important.

In the words of Konstantin Stanislavski, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” To make a middle school theater production great, every single person needs to fully commit to their role, no matter what size it may be. This becomes clear when someone is absent from a rehearsal, or even worse, a performance. Even if a student is part of the ensemble and not a main character, their absence throws off the rest of the cast. Dances are next to impossible to choreograph when people are missing, even if those people have no speaking lines in the play.

Theater takes an entire team to make it work, and every single person is important.

Theater takes teamwork.

In middle school theater, you rely on your castmates. When you’re in a scene with other people, you need to interact with them. In a dance, everyone needs to work together to move around the stage without causing collisions. Sometimes, you need to trust your castmates to catch you or pick you up. If one person doesn’t know their lines, the whole scene will fall apart, no matter how well the rest of the actors know their own lines. Also, if you make any changes, it is imperative to let everyone else in the scene know beforehand.

If you don’t communicate with your castmates, things fall apart quickly.

Mistakes will happen.

It doesn’t matter how hard you rehearse beforehand, there are always mistakes made in live theater performances. There is no way to avoid them completely. What matters is how you are able to deal with them.

Most times, if actors stay in character and keep moving along, the audience won’t even notice that anything went wrong. If, however, the actors freak out, it becomes obvious that something happened. A lot of rehearsal time is spent learning how to calmly continue on in the face of the unexpected. For example, a zipper broke on a costume at intermission and we had to duct tape the actor into his costume to return to the stage. On with the show! This is a fantastic skill for the rest of life, when the unexpected pops up on a regular basis.

You need to get outside of your comfort zone.

In middle school theater, you are often asked to step outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes a shy person is asked to sing a solo. Perhaps you will be asked to wear a costume that looks completely silly to you. One time, I was asked to do a cartwheel in a show. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to do a cartwheel. I practiced a lot and managed to learn how to do a cartwheel, but it wasn’t very graceful. I just plastered on a big smile and did it anyway. While it is uncomfortable to try some new things, the effort will help you grow as a person. And who knows? You may even use your newfound skills later in life.

No one else is responsible for you.

Middle school theater involves a lot of self-responsibility. As an actor, you are responsible for learning all your lines, your blocking, and your choreography.

Directors can teach you all these things, but they can’t memorize everything for you. Also, each actor is responsible for their own props and costumes. Actors quickly learn that if they don’t put stuff away in the proper places after a show, they won’t be able to find them for the next performance. Actors must also plan their time wisely. If they take too long to get ready, they won’t be ready for the beginning of the show.

Theater teaches so many great life lessons, especially for middle schoolers. The experience can lead to confident, responsible, creative children. Get out there and act, or join the theater as crew. Just get out there!

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