When you watch a child grow up, day by day, year by year, it can be hard to notice. When they’re babies each and every change is immediately apparent and celebrated as a milestone, but the older one gets, the subtler our evolution is. You could be walking through the park holding your 8-year old’s hand and in the time it takes to stop and tie your shoes they’ve suddenly turned into a 13-year old young adult, ready to explore the park on their own and you think “Where was I?”
But when your relationship with a kid is a little more distant, a little more like a guest spot in their lives as opposed to part of their main ensemble, those transformations are highlighted, spot lit. Each time you meet again it’s like you’re meeting a whole new person; taller, wiser, more self-assured, and you think “Who are you?”
One of the great joys of teaching for CKA’s After-School Arts Program for several years is the opportunity to meet new students and to watch them grow; to follow their progress year to year as they move towards the adult humans they will one day be; to catch glimmers of those future adults and past children contained in the same person. One of the great joys of teaching drama for CKA’s After-School Arts Program specifically is that you get to help the students process that transition, by giving them tools to express what is often inexpressible; to help them ask (and answer) the question “Who am I?”
The first time I met Kyra she was a confident, chatty 5 year old. She loved to tell stories, about herself, about her family, and she loved to entertain. She was funny and prepared to be goofy to get the laugh. She yearned for opportunities to perform, to release all her exuberance for life, to be a star, but she was also a good friend and classmate, generous and supportive with the rest of the students and genuinely happy to see them shine. The very first time I taught at her school she gave me a rainbow bracelet to welcome me and a big hug when I left.
So when, 4 years on, another drama teacher was assigned to Kyra’s school, one of the things that I was saddest about was that I wouldn’t get to see how much Kyra had changed in a year. I wouldn’t get to hear her new stories or see her try out new characters, master new skills. I wouldn’t get to goof around with her. And as the semester continued on, I often thought about Kyra and wondered what she was like now? She’d be in grade 4. Was she still goofy or had older child solemnity taken hold? Would she still be interested in storytelling and performing or was she suddenly shy the way adolescents sometimes are? As a senior student at her school, what kind of mentor or leader was she for the younger students?
I wasn’t worried, but all the same when I finally did encounter Kyra again at Celebration Day, I was astonished. She was the first person I saw when I stepped into the Great Hall; she was indeed taller, and she looked more sophisticated in a chic tunic and leggings combo. She looked every inch a young woman, a workshop version of the singular adult she will one day be. But she was still Kyra. She was playing one of the Town Mayors in You Can Build A Bridge and she had taken her medallion and draped in over her head like a crown. When she delivered her lines, she spoke in the drawling, mid-Atlantic accent that has come to denote authority and grandiloquence all over the English-speaking world. She’s still funny, but now her humor is more focused; she’s still exuberant, but she’s learned when and how to channel that exuberance; She’s definitely become a leader and a mentor; and she’s still a little goofy when she needs to be.
Kyra is going to be in grade 5. She’ll take what she at learned at ASAP from the actors, musicians, painters, sculptors, poets, dancers, and other artists that CKA has sent out and she’ll apply it to her whole life. And she’ll pass it on; during the dress rehearsal for You Can Build a Bridge Kyra proudly told some younger actors that this was her fifth year participating in the program. They took that very much to heart, because all of the younger kids want to grow up to be like Kyra. Kyra was born creative and ASAP gave her the tools to hone that creativity and the confidence to indulge it. I’m so proud that I got to be a small part of that and I can’t wait to run into Kyra another 5 years from now to meet the joyful, creative, exuberant teenager she’s always been becoming.