In the recent discussion concerning the appearance of children upon the stage, there has evidently arisen a confusion between the educational value of dramatic training and stage life as a money-earning occupation for children. As Francis Wilson in a recent article has quoted the appearance of children in the Hull House Theater in such wise as to increase this confusion, the following statement may be of value.
For many years at Hull House children have given plays varying from Alice in Wonderland and Puss in Boots by the little children, to the heroic plays of Wat Tyler and William Tell given by the older lads. Care has always been taken to relate the subjects to the natural interests of the children, and the plays are selected with reference to their imaginative, artistic, and historic content.
We consider this dramatic training of great educational value, and the plays which represent weeks of careful preparation, are given on exactly the same basis as are the recitals of the Hull House Music School, or the exhibitions of the Hull House Gymnasium.
No child is allowed to appear in more than two plays a year, and if during the rehearsal of the first play his school work has suffered, or if he neglects his other appointments at Hull House, he is not allowed to appear in the second play. During this training the child lives at home and is regular in his school attendance. He merely has the added education and stimulation of dramatic training as other Hull House children have lessons in music, painting and the plastic arts. His training is not for a moment to be compared to the vicissitudes and irregularities of professional stage life.
Our own experience in all of the art schools connected with Hull House leads us to the conclusion that laws protecting children need to apply to "art" quite as much as to factory labor. It is quite impossible to estimate the loss to society of artistic ability of all sorts, because we have failed to realize that talent must be zealously guarded and educated, and because we have permitted gifted children to be prematurely exploited for the benefit of him who first chances to discover their unusual abilities.