We’ve all seen it lately. Students – and adults – leaning over, glued to their mobile devices. It is so prevalent that there is a medical term defining it; text neck.

More worrisome is the fear that students are not gaining the social skills necessary to succeed in a global world where collaboration and communication skills are at a premium.

That is exactly why theater is a wonderful remedy.

Just what the doctor ordered.

“Theater forces young people to connect with each other,” says Mrs. Naghib, the director of the annual Shakespeare play. “You can’t text a line to the audience; you can’t build the set on your iPad. You have to bring your whole self to the production; you have to be in the present.”

In fact, the performance of and preparation for a production, like Macbeth, is a terrific example of fostering 21st Century Skills:

  • Collaboration & Teamwork
  • Communication Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Theater teaches us through a unique learning style. Obviously, we hone our communication skills – such as enunciation, projection, memorization – but we also learn to support one another other under a unified goal.

Without collaboration, the production would fail miserably. Students work together to build the set. They collaborate to pull together a scene. They coordinate lighting and sound to All very integral parts of a production.

But one of the most undervalued experiences in theater is the way it nurtures critical thinking skills. “To truly master a part, actors must immerse themselves in the role, says Mrs. Naghib. “If it is an older production and we are bringing it to the present time, we must be able to understand the differences in the setting.”

It isn’t easy.

Understanding what motivates a character takes time to research and requires a deeper level of understanding. This is a critical part of the process of acting. Asking questions of the character requires a significant time for reflection and thought:

Why is my character responding in this manner?
What would I do in this situation? Why?
What external forces are in play to make my character respond like this?
What social norms are in play in this time period in comparison to today?

These are all simple questions, but part of the learning process. One of our goals is to have the students to be reflective about the material, to dig deeper into themselves and the role. It’s not just understanding a character; it’s an exercise in critical thinking.

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Suggested Reading:

Why Theater Majors Are Vital in the Digital Age
The Chronicle of Higher Education

EXCERPT: Theater (slow, communal, physical) may be the cure for what ails us in the digital world. Social psychologists, neurologists, and doctors tell us that cellphone use (in the way our students do it, more than eight hours a day) is altering modes of attention, reducing eye contact, hurting necks and hands, and changing our brains and sleep cycles. Apparently nothing feels as good as the dopamine rush that floods our brains every time the phone “pings.” We are all of us, to a degree, nomophobic (the term coined to describe the anxiety that results from being without one’s phone).

…Businesses have long recognized that elements of actor training can be used to develop creativity, improve communication, and resolve conflicts. Many corporate consultants have bachelor’s degrees in acting and make a good living teaching improvisation, role play, and collaborative problem-solving to M.B.A.s. Yet universities with theater departments have failed to recognize that they have this resource in their own backyards.

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