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The first stage - family-created musical and theatrical performances as recreation

Before computers, video games, and dozens of TV channels with nothing on, there was home theater. Not the big-screen TV, DVD player, and speakers, but the real thing. Whether in the grip of boredom, or creativity, kids put on shows for parents, grandparents, and any patient soul they could entice. Skits and musical acts took place in the living room or garage.

Costumes and props came together after hastily raiding closets for old clothes and assorted junk. Casting the roles themselves, children took center stage, no longer forced by a perfectionist teacher or church choirmaster to play a silent tree or shy angel stuck at the back of the stage.

If they stumbled over their lines--or tripped while wearing mom's oversized pumps--there was no chance of callous cackles or stunned silence. The audience was always packed with their biggest fans, watching with rapt attention and then applauding and shouting "Encore!" as the performance drew to a close.

As kids, we all derived pleasure and pride from these staged diversions, but we got more than rave reviews. That first stage became a training ground where we could test our gifts and try out potential personas, a place where aspirations were indulged without fear of being stomped by critics. That's why those performances were so important: They were a rehearsal for real life. Who doesn't know a friend whose first guitar solo was before his family, or a lawyer who first practiced her verbal acuity and quick thinking before an appreciative crowd?

Whether it's a poetry recital or a game of charades, any performance can become a life lesson. It's on the first stage that our kids will learn to cooperate, to think on their feet, to soldier on when props fail and lines are forgotten. More importantly, they'll get inspiration and confidence to step into the bigger spotlight of a sometimes unforgiving world, to face down their harshest critics, and turn a deaf ear to the catcalls of life.

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