Usually, in a family, we all whether we like it or not have something that can brings us together; even in our most trying times. Something that doesn't necessarily have to make sense to the outside world and only needs to make sense with us.
For my family, it has always been television.
Since the beginning of our family's dynamics, we learned how to use television to be a de-stressor in our lives and continue to use it as such. Whether that be due to the belief of relating to the character, or simply getting lost in another story, I have been hooked. And if anything, taught to dream through the radiant rays from an otherwise black screen.
There have been many who argue that television is increasingly bad for children, and that the statistics show grim results on parent-child relationships and their communication, as well as their own emotional and physical wellbeing. In The Real Reason Why TV Is Bad for Kids (1), written for Psychology Today, Dr. Amy Nathanson explains how reading a book with your children increases the parent-child interaction dynamic compared to television. In How Media Use Affects Your Child (2)written for Kids Health, they explain that it has negative effects on how the child views the world, as well as their physical health linking obesity to over four hours of screen time a day. They continue to say that it also causes problems in understanding stereotypes, and links to watching violent material promoting aggression and believing bad behavior is okay.
And you know what? These can be absolutely correct on most cases of interaction with your parents and the wellbeing of the child. But none of these articles talk about how television can impact young performers and their ability to learn from what they witness in the right lens, and how even in these seemingly grim articles it can actually encourage learning and exploring curiosity about craft in other mediums.
The first thing I ever learned from watching television as a young performer was something that you might not expect. I paid attention to how they costumed everything. The makeup, the hair, and everything in between. As I got older, this grew with more of a performer's knowledge, beginning to open my eyes to what it meant to send a message about what the character's personality was even like based on their bracelet. Or even a single button in the wrong place. I noticed the importance of every single set piece and the importance of how they designed the background art. How EVERYTHING told the story. But it also taught me something very important.
Only if you were observant enough would you be able to catch it.
For my family and performer peers, it became a conversation all in itself. "Did you notice the hearts behind Anna inside the door?" "Did you notice that every single costume has some sort of heart in it's design?" prompting stunning and stellar conversations with friends and family. We would watch anything behind the scenes or new trivia about the movies or TV shows that we were watching and regale the other on the couples onscreen married in real life, what they used to make the blood look more real, what they used in order to make sure that the dancers didn't hurt themselves so far up on those stilts, or that the director in the movie Love Actually had the children say "I hate Uncle Jamie" out of spite and jest for his own living brother. It became an intelligent and scholarly conversation from the point of pure intrigue to the desire to learn more. We learned what made Wes Anderson's head tick to Tim Burton's whimsical stylings that drew you in with its morbid yet sweet undertones that leave you wanting more. It inspired me to read book after book about hair and makeup for movies, how they created special effects in the Golden Age of Hollywood (before CGI) and many more.
One of the next things that I learned from watching copious amounts of television from the lens of a performer was that of differing opinions in the industry, as well as keeping yourself safe from what I call "Character Cross Contamination". Through watching television, you learn that not everything is from the same side politically, and that some things teeter on other sides of political stances and real life issues. But the reason why isn't always to push an agenda. It taught me that:
You can use movies and television to show a raw and real dramatized perspective on something that maybe you have never thought about in a certain way or have a hard time of seeing the other side.
Shows like 13 Reasons Why started a conversation with friends and family that otherwise would have felt forced or coerced. We discussed why they said the words that they did, maybe why they changed the script and going over if that line was really important enough to the plot line from our own perspectives. If they did the issue justice. How their delivery could have been changed, if they earned the right to cuss in a certain scene, or how they could have done things differently from an understanding of someone in that world as an actor (meaning the performances). And THAT is exactly why the show was created. To start that conversation.
Additionally through watching A Streetcar Named Desire, I learned of Vivien Leigh's change in personality after filming and how after playing Blanche she was never the same again in a negative sense. She played Blanche too closely to herself and the characters in her mind fused together. It taught me to really learn how to separate the characters I play from who I am, setting clear and hard boundaries to protect my own emotional wellbeing. To play the music of the show when I am going in, and my favorite songs when I'm driving out. To look at pictures of my family members and friends and the things that make me who I am.
Another thing that I really benefitted from when watching television was that of poise, authenticity, and stage presence.
From an early age, I began to watch facial expressions in outstanding situations. When I watched a Golden Age stunning actress fall madly in love with her debonair hunk of a husband, I noticed where her eyes went. I noticed how he held her. When I watched Mary Tyler Moore's performance in Ordinary People, I watched how she cried. How she didn't fully let herself cry in most situations where the others were much more open about their emotions. It became a gauge of whether or not it felt authentic. If it didn't feel authentic to me, I had a harder time getting into the show or to the movie. If their emotion in any circumstance didn't feel genuine, it to me was a learning experience in what NOT to do. I still study every single touch, every single glance. Every single silent car ride. If it works, I would ask myself, "What are they communicating with each other silently that makes this scene work?". If it doesn't work, then asking myself "How could they have improved their chemistry in this scene with one another or with their circumstances, and what can I learn from this in my scenes?". As I began to grow in my understanding of meaningful glances emotions and touch, I began to study posture and the importance in film or television. When you are confident, you walk or talk a certain way. When you are sad, you communicate that through certain mannerisms or your posture. To an untrained eye, it is more fuzzy. But as you continue to study these mannerisms, you begin to pick up the slightest of discrepancies. Someone who is AMAZING at this is my boyfriend Daniel. Daniel has his Bachelor's in acting for film, and on our first date, he was telling me my little mannerisms and what they told him about even the smallest feelings and impulses that I had. It was absolutely intriguing to me. Even the slightest lift in my voice told him something that I would have never even known about myself. As I began to watch more and more outstanding material, I began to see what he was talking about. When you are looking for it, it becomes obvious and second nature.
As a vocalist primarily, I was taught many things about stage presence by watching television. Watching the way that these artists in these stadium performances would just strut their stuff and exude a confidence that made every person gravitate towards singing into their hairbrush when nobody was looking. I watched how they fought through sickness through documentaries especially about musicals (my main craft), and how they even amidst hard times found solace in just being out there and baring who they were to often millions of people without noticeable reservation. It inspired me even in my day to day life as a performer to have that same level of confidence in something I had worked so hard in. To let myself feel the music but also not be afraid to freely dance to it.
And last but certainly not least, through television I learned so much about myself as a performer.
Amidst all of the odds, the actors gracing the screen showed me that it was possible to be seen. That who you are is the best person that you can be, and that being a performer isn't just some pipe dream. I noticed similarities in celebrities that made me feel beautiful no matter what I looked like or what I wore. That being strong even in your craft doesn't make you less desirable. That there was hope for the underdogs, and that Hollywood always loves a good underdog story. Even though this topic is the shortest topic that I have in this article, that doesn't mean it is any less important; because it is more emotional and encouraging than anything.
So, yes. TV according to research is not technically beneficial for children in terms of child development and the child-parent relationships that are essential to bonding. However, as a performer child, I learned one of the most important lessons through watching television with my family.
It is what you choose to pay attention to that has the opportunity to make the experience a rich learning experience.
My family chose to use television as a resource for our craft. A resource in how every piece and part comes together for the greater good. For learning to act authentically, yet also being cautious with keeping you and the predisposed character separated in a healthy way. And most importantly, stage presence and the ability to be your true self on stage.
(1) Psychology Today.com. The Real Reason Why TV Is Bad For Kids. 19 October 2011. No Sponsor Found.
(2) Kid's Health.org. How Media Use Affects Your Child . December 2016. www.nemours.org.
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