• Patrick McAndrew

7 Reasons Theater Should Be A Required Course in Schools

The education system gets a lot of backlash nowadays.  As government funding goes towards other means, there continues to be a lack of resources for schools across the country.  I’ve heard stories of teachers having to purchase their own school supplies, things as simple as pencils and paper, in order to teach their students.  While this is the case, students are growing less engaged and turning to drugs and crime.

This isn’t the case for all schools.  Some schools, which are well-funded, are providing the latest technological gadgets for their students.  iPads in every hand and smartboards in every classroom allow for easy access to Internet resources that can engage students on a whole new level.  But many students are revolting, struggling to see how material they are learning will apply to their adult lives.

Theater, now more than ever, is a crucial subject that should be part of the core curriculum in our schools, instead of merely a unit in English classes.  You may say, “Why, how will Shakespeare impact my child’s future?  She wants to be a doctor!”  Or, “Only a select few people perform on Broadway…why should my son waste his time in a theater class when he can be taking AP Geometry?  He wants to be an architect, you know!”

Many parents, and even many teachers, completely miss the point of arts education.  This has been proven time and time again as arts programs are usually the first to go when schools make budget cuts.  Unfortunately, the ones making these decisions have no idea what they are missing out on, especially as we teach students in the digital age.  Here are seven reasons why theater should be a require course in schools:

  • Communication Skills

With teenagers glued to their phones, extensive research is beginning to show that teenagers lack vital social skills.  They have trouble having face-to-face interactions, their conversations lack depth, and they are unable to maintain eye contact when speaking with others.  Simply put, they have trouble communicating.  What better way to improve their communication skills than taking a theater class.  Students can learn text from plays and not only recite them, but also learn how to embody a character and connect with scene partners.  We connect with scene partners in our everyday lives, so, if framed correctly, theater can substantially help in developing students’ conversational capabilities.

  • Listening Skills

With the endless supply of distractions filling our lives, listening skills are often underestimated.  This goes hand in hand with communication skills.  I can’t count the numbers of times I’ve been talking with someone and they whip out their phones as I’m doing so.  Admit it or not, but you aren’t listening.  I know this because I’ve been guilty of this from time to time, though I do make a consistent effort to not take out my phone while speaking with someone.  This, for better or worse, has become the norm and, as such, active listening has become a serious advantage for those who practice the skill.  What better way to exercise this than through theater?  If scene partners don’t listen to one another, the scene falls flat, lacks depth, and is no longer interesting.  The same thing can be said about real life conversations.

  • Collaboration

This is the essence of what theater is about and is a skillset that should be utilized much more within school walls.  While most classrooms breed a rather competitive atmosphere, competing for higher grades and accolades from the teacher, theater is its strongest when the class or ensemble works together.  When putting on a play, everyone is working towards a common goal, whether you are an actor, designer, director, or part of the technical crew.  Everyone wins when everyone works their best and when everyone works together.  Some may retort back to me, stating, “Well…acting and theater is a very competitive field!  What you are saying is quite a contradiction!”  While it is difficult to make a living as an actor, it’s a matter of perspective.  Those who are cut throat in the industry have lost the essence of what theater-making and art is all about: collaboration and community.  This is something that should be emphasized greatly in an educational environment and something that will enhance the lives of the students involved.

  • Empathy

How does one develop empathy?  This is a question that has stumped researchers for years because empathy is such a difficult trait to measure.  Studies show that empathy markers have decreased 40% among teenagers over the past twenty years, much of that being attributed to increased screen time.  Want to know how we can increase empathy?  Take a theater class.  Not only will this expose you to characters from diverse stories and backgrounds in plays, but it will also encourage us to embody these characters and develop an understanding of who they are.  We must empathize with our characters; how else can we perform them to the fullest?  Through the study of theater, we train ourselves to learn about people and cultures that may be different from our own experiences.  We come to discover that, though we want to celebrate difference, we are all very similar as well.  The greater the population of our students taking theater and developing their empathetical skills, the greater our world will be able to understand one another.

  • Acceptance

There is a reason why students who come from marginalized groups flock to the theater department: acceptance.  Very rare is the case that someone who feels stigmatized, ostracized, or secluded will not find a home in the theater.  Of course, with any social group in high schools, there are cliques and such, but I believe this can be avoided when theater is arranged as a required course instead of an extracurricular activity.   Acceptance is so abundant in the theater because we need to accept one another for who we are in order to create a strong piece of theater.  For anyone who has been in a toxic work environment, you know the importance of acceptance.  If we accept each other for who we are, we are better able to work and collaborate with one another.  Because theater requires this, students are much more likely to feel included, supported, and happy about their educational environment.

  • It’s Fun

Theater is fun.  Theater games are awesome.  And it’s a good time working on a production that will make audiences happy.  Just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a lot of work or isn’t valuable.  In fact, I would argue it’s even more important.  Because it’s fun, students are much more likely to be engaged than bored and the more engaged they are the more they will learn and retain.  A big reason why theater is so much fun is because we are interacting with people.  We are having conversations and connecting on a human level.  We aren’t chained to desks, glued to our screens, or forced to take exams.  There is much more leeway for creative freedom and this flexibility gives students agency and control.  Students are encouraged to take risks on stage or in exercises.  Taking risks is a very foreign term in our educational system today, but taking risks is how society and the world progresses.  When students are enjoying themselves, they are much more likely to respect and understand what they are learning.

  • It Will Prepare Them For Life

I know, big statement, but absolutely true.  Whether they become a lawyer, accountant, entrepreneur, salesman, fashion designer, marine biologist, or any other profession, theater will help them because we will always be required to interact with people.  Theater hones our people skills, plain and simple.  We are able to exercise our communication, listening, collaboration, empathy, and acceptance all in a fun, interactive way.  Theater is different in that technology is not needed.  With everyone’s focus being on technological progress, we are beginning to forget the importance of essential soft skills in how we interact with people.  It’s the relationships you build, both personally and professionally, that are going to fuel your life satisfaction.  If we do not exercise our people skills, we will be less successful, less happy, and much less fulfilled.  Theater is a lab for the imagination and we must develop that imagination to set us up for life.  This is why theater should be a required course in schools.

So if you run into someone who denounces the importance of theater in schools, show them this article or, better yet, send them my email.  It will give us the opportunity to have an in-depth, personal conversation to better understand each other’s viewpoints.  We will have an open-minded discussion and see where it goes.  And I will leave it by telling them that their students can have a similar type of conversation after taking a theater class.

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