A teaching role: How theater enhances academic ability, performance in youths

Published: Monday, March 17 2014 12:15 p.m. MDT

Live theater requires a different kind of attention than TV, the DVR, YouTube and Netflix. You can’t pause and you can’t rewind. You have to pay attention to the words, the movement and the facial expressions, and put that into the proper context of time and place. Whether it’s simply hearing two sides of an argument or identifying with the feelings of a character, theater builds listening skills.

The material produced may come from a moment in history, a classic piece of literature or be about an important social issue. Regardless, I feel it should enhance and support the work of our teachers and our schools.

Teresa Dayley Love: Theater provides context.  There’s an agreement between audience and performers to look at ideas, thoughts and possibilities carefully for a few minutes together. ... A few minutes of rich engagement in theater can help children take leaps in their understanding of the world and their place in it. We know from the science of the brain that the most powerful learning takes place with an accompanying emotional experience, and that sounds like theater to me.

Clin Eaton: Theater naturally ties in very well with all English curriculum. Students read plays in school, especially Shakespeare, but sometimes, seeing a show like “Les Miserables” or “The Phantom of the Opera” can inspire the student to read the book that the theatrical piece was based on.

Theater also teaches history. Theater often parallels the time that the piece was written. Greek and Roman tragedies, medieval passion plays, Italian and English Renaissance pieces, Restoration comedies and turn-of-the-century realism and naturalism plays all support a well-rounded history curriculum.

At the junior high and high school level, theater is a co-curricular and extracurricular subject. I know the theater students at Riverton High School, where I teach, and most high schools run the gamut from straight 4.0 honor roll to theater being the only class they attend — and sometimes, theater is the only reason they come to school in the first place.

Next: The elements essential to making theater for young audiences entertaining.

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