My family and I just returned from a whirlwind visit to New York City. We had fun doing the tourist things like hanging out in Central Park, touring the Natural History Museum (where they shot the movie Night at the Museum) and riding the Ferris wheel at the world’s largest Toys R Us in Times Square. That was all great, but the highlight of the trip was definitely witnessing Denzel Washington embody the lead role of Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s award-winning play Fences on Broadway. I’ve seen Fences a few times over the years at local theaters here and in other cities, so I already knew the characters and the story, but with Denzel lending his skill to the piece this theater experience tops the list as one of my most memorable yet.
For those who have seen any one of Denzel’s twenty-six movies, I don’t have to tell you that he is, arguably, one of the greatest actors of all time, but to see him live gave me a chance to witness someone take their craft to a completely different level. Not only was Denzel a master of the dialogue, but his charm, facial expressions, voice inflections, movements and verbal dexterity transported me to 1957 Pittsburgh. I laughed, I cried and I wanted the play to go on long after the two and a half hours were over.
Experiencing Fences on Broadway really took me back to my childhood, and made me ponder the role that the arts, specifically theater, can play in the shaping of a child’s outlook on life. As far back as I can remember I have loved going to the theater. Although my family didn’t have a lot of resources as I was growing up, one thing my mother did that had a significant impact on both my sister and me was exposing us to the theater at an early age. In one of our local theaters in Cleveland, Ohio, the Karamu Theater, we were able to experience a wide breadth of culture, and to begin to gain an understanding of the larger world around us. We learned about life through the stories of others while we laughed, cried, sympathized and were amazed. In fact, I did an internship at the Karamu when I was a senior in high school, and my sister had roles in several plays during her high school career. I believe these things happened as direct result of the power and impact of theater on young, impressionable minds. Additionally, when I was a child my mother started the tradition of going to see Black Nativity at the Karamu every Christmas. I loved that experience so much that I decided to carry on that tradition with my own family so my husband and I take our children to see Black Nativity at the Penumbra Theater every year.
As a parent I have made it a point to expose my children to a wide range of cultural experiences. They have seen several plays ranging from Mulan Jr. at The Children’s Theater to The Lion King on Broadway, and their response is always the same: amazement, wonder and curiosity. They marvel at the characters, the costumes and the set, they question us about the dialogue and the story, and often want to read the book or see the movie after they have seen the play. While it is extremely valuable to expose all children to theater, museums, concerts and all forms of the arts, it’s especially beneficial for underprivileged children because, like reading, it allows them to imagine a life beyond their current circumstances. The numerous benefits of exposing children to the arts is well researched and documented and includes children learning to think creatively and with an open mind, children learning to observe, describe, analyze and interpret, children learning to express feelings with and without words, and children learning to practice problem-solving and critical thinking skills. So the next time you’re looking for something to do with your children I strongly encourage an outing to see a play. Whether the star is Denzel Washington or a local actor, I guarantee the experience will be memorable and have a positive, long-lasting impact.