My middle child Eli, is the theatrical one in the family. You know the type - always telling jokes, crafting dramatic stories, reacting passionately to everything. He cracks me up and has quite the reputation among our friends as being a real ham.
So when I first heard about Conyers Kids, a performing arts school that meets at Conyers Presbyterian Church in Olde Town, I thought he'd be a great candidate to audition.
But when I told him that the classes were three-fold - not just acting, but singing and movement, too - he went all "deer-in-the-headlights" and said, "No way, Mom!" I didn't want to push him, so I just let it go and decided we'd wait another year to try out.
When I got word about last August's audition, I started encouraging Eli to give it a shot. He still hemmed and hawed and dragged his feet a bit, but I knew that even if he decided he didn't want to join the class, the audition would be a good experience for him. I'm a cunning mother, not above bribery to motivate my children, so I dangled an after-trip to Dunkin' Donuts in front of his nose. With visions of chocolate frosting and sprinkles dancing in his head, my sweet boy gleefully took the bait.
He was so nervous on the way to the audition and he held back quite a lot during it. I felt a little discouraged because he hadn't really shown what he was capable of. But I was immediately impressed with how director Joey Fargar worked with these kids. He is engaging, yet firm, and has a real gift for coaxing the best out of children.
Joey called the next day and asked if I felt that Eli really wanted to be there. I explained how Eli's always entertaining us at home and that he just felt intimidated by performing in front of strangers. Joey offered to give it a trial run and see how Eli felt after a few classes.
Well, it only took one class before Eli was totally hooked. And over the year, I watched him blossom from the boy who blushingly mumbled a joke at his audition to a boy who actually volunteered to sing a solo at the year-end performance. All of his performing strengths have been strengthened, and the areas he could use some help have remarkably improved in just one year of Conyers Kids.
He's been nagging me all summer, wondering when the classes will start back. When I asked why he was bugging me so, he said, "Because the whole thing is so fun, Mom! Especially improv. I love it!" And I just smile because, at least this time, Mama's instincts were right.
You hear this statement so often that it almost sounds corny, but the arts saved me when I was a kid. Painfully shy, drawing and painting was all I did well.
Having that one thing I could do, that one form of self-expression, gave me what little confidence I had - it validated my worth. And by high school, I was president of the art club and applying to study graphic design at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
That's one reason I feel saddened when I hear that arts programs are nudged a little further out of our schools every year. Children need to act, to sing, to dance, to draw, to dream. I get that there's pressure to perform academically, but the arts just plain make kids better people. According to Americans for the Arts, children and teens who participate in theater arts are four times more likely than other students to participate in math or science fairs, four times as likely to win awards for writing essays and poems, and three times as likely to win awards for school attendance.
There are so many children - like me, and my son - who drown when all the beauty of expression is removed from life. That's why I feel so passionately about Conyers Kids and Joey Fargar's commitment to keeping the arts in our community. If you share our belief, visit conyerskids.com for more information about the auditions being held this Thursday, Aug. 2. I hope I'll see you there.
Kari can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.