A recent article from TheaterMania.com asks Should Children Perform on Broadway? In their Point-Counterpoint discussion two of their critics debate the question. I think a fundamental question, which they do not ask, is whether it’s anyone’s business, besides the parents (caregivers) to decide what kind of work children can or should do? We take for granted in our over-legislated society that we the people (through government) should decide on every minute aspect of everyone’s lives and then create laws based on our opinions. Of course, all of this costs money and uses up many resources of our government. We have strayed so far from small government that we no longer consider it as part of the question. In my view, parents ought to have sole charge over their children. Employers ought to have sole charge over their business. If a voluntary contractual agreement takes place between a parent, child, and employer, let it be so. Only after laws are broken ought the government intervene. I believe when we get out of the way and stop regulating people they actually learn how to be responsible. Yes, I believe in the goodness of people and the underlying natural desire to be social and members of a civil community.
Practically speaking, in this present, less-than-civilized, overly-regulated society, I still see no reason why children ought not have the opportunity to make money from their talents and skills just as adults do. Children gain tremendous, expanding, growth experience, contribute productively to culture and society, gain independence and autonomy, work side by side with adults giving them apprentice and mentoring opportunities, and have the chance to inspire other kids to work hard, develop their talents, and do good for themselves and their communities. My own son has made thousands of dollars acting in commercials along side adults and industry professionals. He benefitted from the exciting grown-up experiences which facilitated his maturity. One of my students in New York began working on Broadway at twelve years old and his career took off from there. Today, decades later, he is a highly successful choreographer in New York and internationally.
In the article Haley Levitt explains, “Child labor laws were instituted because underage children were being forced out of school and into the work force to help support their families — and the work they were impelled to do was hard labor that would actually harm their physical development.” While many, probably most people, belief this, there is amble evidence to suggest this is short-sighted. A fundamental reason why children were pushed into compulsory schooling is because they can be schooled, trained, indoctrinated, and made into the image of the citizen the State desires and demands. If every child is educated in different ways there would be no group-think, politically-correct, dogma, and prescribed social outlook; it would be much harder to control the populace. Just read John Taylor Gatto’s insightful book, Underground History of American Education for a start. There is much more to this misunderstood idea of child labor laws but now is not the place to expound. We have the laws, and we also have the exemption for children in show-business, as the article points out.
The discussion brings out many issues worth thinking about and I encourage anyone interested to read it. I agree with the authors that Awards are “a twisted mind game”. Moreover, I would suggest they diminish the real value of art; art is self-expression and there is no objective “good, better, best” – it is for each of us to decide our opinion. Of course, the more discerning and learned eye one has, the more one can expertly talk, critique, or analyze a work (if this is necessary at all; often art is best left unintellectualized and just experienced). But art needn’t be elitist. The lay person can get just as much from a work of art as the expert, albeit in a different way.
Awards are grounded in competition. Competition has no place in art; they are antithetical. Yet, we have created a culture of artistic rewards through awards and few even question the phenomenon.
Like children, artists do not need praise for their work (awards), the praise is self-induced and self-experienced inside. In other words, a job well done always feels good and fulfilling; praise is unnecessary and taints the job with heady ego. If we would learn to trust this idea, an idea that authors Alfie Kohn and John Holt wrote about decades ago, we could allow children (and adults) to develop without the constant outer feedback and we would rely more on our inner experience for feedback and reward. This is a healthier approach to art and living in general, let alone helping a child to develop optimally.
Yet schools, as indicated earlier, indoctrinate children into the carrot/stick duality from the start. An elementary school student told me only a few days ago that since the students raised enough money (hers came from her parents) for their school, the students wouldn’t have homework for a week! Boy was she excited! My heart broke…
Broadway is an artistic vessel of hope, dreams, aspirations, and great performances by children. As with sports and sporting events, children clamor for the Broadway stage and are willing to work very hard at young ages to achieve their dreams. While sports offer a great way to express our competitive natures and separate winners from losers, performing offers a great way to express our deepest, personal honest and authentic selves, and create unity within and without – both are equally valuable yet not at all alike; art is expression, sports are competitions. We would do well to distinguish between the two.