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Performing Arts Kidlit Lexicon

Today, I’ve been thinking about types of characters in performing arts books.  There’s no question–the same kind of people show up in these stories, don’t they?  There’s the kid who always gets the lead (and knows it), the diamond-in-the-rough star nobody expected, the retired-artist mentor who might just coach our hero into being the practiced performer he or she dreams of being (if only the hero will WORK), and so on.

As I created this blog, I realized we may need a dictionary of sorts–a lexicon for performing arts kid stories.  It may take a while, but here are a few terms I’ve come up with so far:

The Reluctant–The character who is performing against his or her will.  Either a child who never wanted to dance/act/whatever in the first place, or a child who wanted to, but changes his or her mind before long and can’t get out of it.  In many series books, this is the main character–a “regular kid” protagonist–who eagerly enters the world of film or commercials, then quickly grows bored or miserable with it.  This child will try to find a way out of the performing world in the end.

The Natural–Your basic prodigy.  A character the author implies was born to dance/act/whatever because of some innate talent or qualities he or she possesses.  This child has either been performing the art practically since birth, or picks it up at an astonishing rate when he or she begins training.  In addition, this character may think of little else–her or she is a devoted slave to performance.  Even pleasing an audience is far less important than creating great art for art’s sake.

The Beauty–If nature was extraordinarily kind to a character, he or she may be at the top of the performing ladder partially thanks to his or her face or physique.  This type of character is often described as having unusually large, startlingly-colored eyes, the perfect shape or size body, and some other physical quality that makes him/her stand out.  Being a Beauty is a little different than being a Natural because it has more to do with attractiveness than talent.  This type of character will often be given the lead roles simply for prettiness.  May or may not be untalented or a bit of a dim bulb.

You know, Jerry, I would love to. Except how can I when she is just so late on her cues?

The Brat–This is the character you love to hate, the Nellie Oleson of the performing world.  This kid is a success, and it’s gone straight to his or her head in the worst possible way.  This character wields power, throws tantrums, and is completely two-faced, so the public never knows.  His or her parents aren’t helping matters, and usually neither is whoever is supposed to be in charge.  Jason Hervey’s child actor character in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is my favorite movie Brat ever.

The Stage Parent–The parent of the performing child who will do anything and everything to see his or her child succeed.  Could be because the child wants it, or could be in spite of the child really not wanting it.  This person talks behind the other children’s and parents’ backs, cozies up to the director or producers, and generally makes a jerk of him or herself.  The stage parent’s desire for fame/fortune through his or her child supersedes common sense and logic at times.  He or she will do anything to get his or her little star ahead.

Naturally, quality writing goes well beyond types, creating characters who are real, developed people with flaws and good points alike.  Nevertheless, if you’ve ever hung out at a dance studio or children’s theater auditions, you know, don’t you?  These people are out there!

So, can you think of some other performing kidlit types I’ve left out?  I’d love to add some more!

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All the world’s a stage . . .

Children’s books and stories about the performing arts.  This blog will be a crossroads, of sorts.  I’ve always loved books about kids on stage, in commercials, in film, in dance recitals and so on.  I’ve always sought out those sorts of books to read, and it’s just the sort of stuff I love to write.

But after ten years of learning to write for kids and a lifetime of reading their books, I’ve also come to realize that “the big show” is a part of so many stories–not just those about kids in the arts.  Many, many children’s books involve elements of a “performance” at their climax, with the child protagonist put on the spot, all eyes turned his or her way–a do-or-die moment where training and talent and luck will pay off, if only he or she can come through under pressure.

Sometimes performance is just doing the right thing when the spotlight (literal or figurative) is on you, isn’t it? In a way, that covers almost all stories.

In a way, it might seem like . . . all the world’s a stage?

I’m fascinated with what a child reader can gain from these books, especially a child today, when so much emphasis is put on wanting to be “famous,” without even a clear idea of what the fame might be for.

So is this first post a bloggy dress rehearsal?  I prefer to think of it as the first day of practice, when you show up and get handed a script–and then sit in a circle and hear everyone’s name and what part they’re playing. A little excitement, a little surprise.  I love that day–don’t you?

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