The seventh grade opened the curtains to the musical Oliver this week. The preparation and practice leading up to the musical takes months of hard work and effort, so we caught up with Ms. Davis, the director of the musical, and asked her, why is theater so important?
“I think in this day and age, when students are so attached to their phones, that it is more important than ever to dive into the nuances of theater. It strengthens their communication skills and reinforces emotion and feeling that you just don’t get staring at a screen.”
“These are soft-skills that will carry them far beyond these walls after they graduate – regardless of whether they pursue acting. These are skills they will all use.”
Ms. Davis also expanded on a number of topics related to the benefits of theater. Read below as she explores each aspect.
Theater itself promotes self-esteem and builds confidence in children. The daily process of working on a production, like Oliver, guides children along a path of development leading them to participate in exercises at levels they would never normally consider. Self-confidence is gained as they achieve each small success, which leads to more success. It doesn’t happen overnight.
The stage also gives that student the opportunity to discover what was already “birthed” inside of them now brought to life. Each student has to dig deep and stretch beyond what might have been a comfort level. That’s how we learn, how we grow. I feel it’s even more important for those students who may not excel in other areas of school, but can can find their time to shine on stage.
Traditions and rituals help cement a school’s identity while signaling what a school values. This tradition has been a part of the school for many years and the musical has become a rite of passage for the seventh grade class. This year we have invited alumni from the classes of 1979 and 1980, who were the last classes to perform Oliver on campus, to join us for the production.
We started working on the music early back in the fall in music class. The students build the set in art class, it’s a wonderful example of cross-curricular learning.
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. There is no lone wolf, everyone is involved to pull this off. That’s what makes it so special.
This is one of the great things about having a class play for every grade. There is no after school drama club for only a small group of kids. This is a yearly event and builds community within the grades.
Understanding what motivates a character takes time to research and requires a deeper level of understanding and critical thinking. This is an important part of the process of acting. Asking questions of the character requires a significant time for reflection and thought. One of our goals with any production 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.
Building the set, painting the backdrop, or improvising a scene when you might have forgotten a line. It all takes creativity. That’s what I love about live theater – it brings out the best in our creativity!
Ms. Davis’ 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.
Alan Alda Promotes Improv As Means To Better Science Communication
EXCERPT: To date, 7,000 scientists and medical professionals and 700 graduate students have been through Alda Center training and workshops, and 24,000 have attended presentations.
“We help them in specific ways to talk to a lay audience, to talk to funders and policymakers, to speak in a televised interview, to write op-ed pieces—pretty much every kind of communication they might be called on to take part in,” Mr. Alda said.
U of A Researchers Find Major Benefits for Students Who Attend Live Theater
University of Arkansas News
EXCERPT: The new experimental study published in Education Next examines the impact on students of attending high-quality theater productions of either Hamlet or A Christmas Carol. The researchers found that viewing the productions leads to enhanced knowledge of the plot, increased vocabulary, greater tolerance and improved ability to read the emotions of others.
*Special thanks to Ms. Barr for the photo at the top of the page!