Here's Something: Through drama, kids learn vital work skills

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Sometimes, you have to fake it until you make it.

That old saying is sage advice when starting any new venture, whether it be a job, sport, hobby or relationship.

Acting is a coping mechanism. When you’re feeling down, you have to muster a good attitude and face the day. Parents do this all the time by putting up a brave front for their kids.

Sometimes we need to fake a calm, cool and collected demeanor. Teens are great at this, especially those tough-looking footballers or wrestlers with their steely-eyed expressions. They’re faking toughness until they and others believe their act.

The workplace is filled with good actors, too. When you’re feeling like all hope is lost on a vital project or product, you must feign confidence not only to raise your own spirits but your coworkers’ as well. Managers know this best. Their brave face is an act needed to keep the ship upright.

Sports are no different. Players in the dugout may believe their team can’t win, but do team leaders mope and sulk? No, they rally their teammates until the last pitch of the last inning. It’s an act. They fake it until they make it. And if they don’t make it, at least they gave it all they had. And that’s a satisfying result as well.

We hear a lot these days about how young people are not learning the necessary coping skills needed to tackle life’s obstacles. We hear that enabling adults, who want to shelter kids from life’s hardships, are stunting their emotional growth. Recent statewide school competitions, however, lead me to disbelieve this pessimism.

Last weekend, we saw Maine’s student-athletes take on big challenges in basketball’s annual state championships. It was amazing to watch these kids rally together for a common cause. They didn’t look for excuses; they looked to their own skills and talents to win a coveted Gold Ball.

These well-publicized student-athletes are learning to overcome challenges. But their lesser-known thespian classmates are also learning life’s coping mechanisms in the most unlikely of places: Onstage.

This weekend, March 8-9, the regional-level competitions of the Maine Drama Festival are being held in nine different venues across the state. About 1,500 student-actors from 78 high schools are competing in short, one-act plays with Class A and B winners advancing to the statewide competitions March 22-23. Those winners head to the New England Drama Festival in Rhode Island in mid-April.

While high school sports teach necessary life skills such as hard work, perseverance, teamwork and focus, competitive drama develops these skills and others.

Play participants learn how to act one way while perhaps feeling another. They learn to stand in front of a critical audience. They learn to overcome stage fright and quiet those demons that say they’re not good enough.

Young actors also learn empathy by understanding their characters and walking in someone else’s shoes. They learn to thrive under a spotlight where there’s no easy retreat from getting the job done. Flub a line and the whole audience knows it. That’s pressure – similar to presenting in a boardroom.

Acting teaches social skills needed to succeed in any career, where timidity and self-doubt are rarely prized nor well compensated. If deftly presenting a one-act play isn’t ideal training for the world of work, I’m not sure what is.

Sports instill great coping skills, but so does acting. Kids who learn to act learn how to fake it until they make it.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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