Mountain View Voice

Opinion - August 14, 2009

The lessons of Les Mis

by Eric Brown

As parents, we always seem to be looking for teachable moments. When the lights went down last Sunday for the final weekend of the Peninsula Youth Theatre production of "Les Miserables" at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, many of the young performers had come to realize how closely the plot mirrors current events.

One would only need to open a newspaper to see how eerily similar the student rebellion in Les Miserables is to the current struggles of students in Iran. A YouTube video showing the senseless killing of an innocent young woman in Tehran produced a worldwide outpouring of grief.

Les Miserables follows the same themes — a failed rebellion and young people dying for a cause they believe in. This simple but painful reality is not lost on some of the young people in the cast.

"Doing this show has made me look at the world around me in a different way. It's one of the things I really love about theater," said Sitar Terrass-Shah of Mountain View, who plays a student revolutionary in the production.

When my own 13-year-old decided to participate in the production (according to Peninsula Youth Theatre's policy, every child who auditions is cast in the show), I thought it would be a good way for her to express her creativity. I've always felt that theater brings meaning to people's lives. But as I watched these incredibly thoughtful and talented kids attack this show with such emotional truth, it reminded me that children's theater is helping young people learn about who they are and it helps them better understand their place in the world.

Something seems to be working here. I watched how the kids interacted while they spent six weeks of rigorous rehearsal necessary to put on such a challenging show, and I was a little surprised at how they bonded. Older kids took younger ones under their wings, and made them feel welcome. Nobody was left out. This wasn't what I was told the teen years would look like.

The subject matter isn't always so heavy — the next PYT production is "Annie" — but my daughter has already asked if she can participate. I have to admit I was hoping she'd say that.

Auditions for Annie are Saturday, Aug. 29 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 30 at 2 p.m. All children who audition are cast in the show. For more, visit www.pytnet.org.

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