The great William Shakespeare taught the world that art is not a mere form of entertainment, but based in truth. He explained this through his character Hamlet who says, "the purpose of playing is to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature to show virtue her feature, [and] scorn her own image." Theatre is a reflection of society. It shows the world its issues and makes people aware of how to fix them. Theatre not only tells stories of the past, but shows us how to shape the future.
Art is essential to society. Not everyone is meant to be a lawyer, doctor or engineer. Some people, like myself, find their calling in the world of theatre. Even if one does not believe that they should have a career in theatre, there is something to be said about a person who participates in theatre in middle school or high school. I believe that theatre education is extremely valuable to certain kids and should be accessible to everyone. Historically, public funding for the arts has been fairly low. However, public support for the arts is leading to an increase in funding—2014 marked the year with the highest funding for the arts. Although this is fantastic, it doesn't mean we can stop holding our breath over this issue. It's the obligation of an artist to make more people aware of the importance of art.
Earlier this year the Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act which ensures that all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, will have the chance for an education in music. By a count of 81 to 17, the Senate chose to ensure that music will become a core subject in schools. Although the official bill mentions music and art, there is no specification about whether the term "art" includes theatre.
Here are some reasons why I believe incorporating theatre into school curriculum is important, based on the experiences of myself and my theatre friends.
1. Theatre is an escape.
We all know how truly tumultuous our emotions get during the dreaded teenage years. The stress-induced mental breakdowns that led us to eating way too many baked goods are still all too fresh in our minds. While another brownie might have made me feel temporarily satisfied, nothing in the world could stop a heartache, distract me from worrying about my home life, or keep me from stressing about a test that I just took like belting it out in the choir room or on stage. Being able to connect to a character, song, monologue, scene or show as a whole gave me an outlet for escaping from my own life and fuel all of my tension, anger, sadness or frustration into something else. Theatre is the best place to put all of the angst. Seriously.
2. Theatre teaches you how to work with people.
Someone once told me, "The most important person on the stage is the person next to you." Although I didn't understand it at the time, I now know exactly what was being said to me. Everyone assumes actors only care about standing center stage in the spotlight, but let me tell you that is only true some of the time. No one can act alone. Every scene in a show involves having to connect with your partner(s) on stage. Furthermore, pretty much every song is about someone else or something else other than yourself. Being part of a cast teaches teamwork just like sports do. And no one understands the word family quite like a theatre kid. The amount of time spent together in rehearsals never fails to lead to the best friendships-- there's nothing more bonding than staying at school until 10:45 pm running a show or going through what seems like 100 light cues.
3. Theatre humbles you.
There is something so vulnerable about performing—you stand in front of hundreds or thousands of people saying "this is me. this is my talent. this is my heart." Performers reveal their true selves every single time they step on stage, no doubt aware that they are going to receive countless critiques. There's nothing worse than an egotistical performer thinking they have nothing left to fix... If that were the case with everyone, there would be no need for directors who shape us into the best performers we can be. Performing in a show teaches a person how to take criticism and apply it. It teaches them to be humble and accept judgment gracefully. It also teaches them to know their own self-worth and to be confident in whatever they bring to the stage. One of my favorite quotes about owning who you are comes from the truly incredible actress, Sierra Boggess. She says....
4. Theatre teaches acceptance.
When you are a part of theatre, you work with so many different kinds of people. You cover a variety of subjects because you are learning about the world and how to put it on a stage. So let's talk about the obvious: yes, some people in theatre are homosexual. Not everyone is, but a substantial amount are. A lot of shows are about homosexuality and if not for theatre, I don't know how I would feel about it. Theatre introduced me to the topic and through theatre, I learned how to be accepting of it, as well as a number of other things. Nowadays theatre calls to mind the following issues—critiques of deaf performers, discrimination, racism, sexuality, gender identity, mental illness, abortion, etc. Theatre teaches us how to address critical issues in our world but also how to accept others for who they are.
So many kids go through life without even an opportunity to experience these wonderful attributes of educational theater. Some people automatically assume that if they take a theatre class they'll become associated with the term "theatre geek" (which let me say, I proudly attribute to myself). Some people know they might love the arts but their parents force them to play sports or join the engineering club. Maybe they're just too scared to take a chance or go against whatever seems to be the most popular thing to do. If more people had access to a theatre class, I believe our world might just be a little more open minded, and a little bit happier. Theatre is truly magical, and I hope that someday, everyone will have the opportunity to experience it.
As Cinderella would say, "It's possible!"