The importance of theater in public schools

by Mallory Waugh

Unfortunately, high school theater departments, along with other fine art departments, often get cut due to budgeting. A slap in the face to an already dying art culture in western societies, cutting theater departments often creates more problems than solutions because the benefits derived from adolescent involvement in theater are often lost with the budget cuts.

Teen dropout rates decrease with involvement in school activities. While not all teenagers are capable of excelling on the physical sports fields, theater allow teens to excel not only culturally, but also technically. Having a theater department allows teens who are culturally enlightened, or technically inclined to find an outlet that allows them to remain plugged in and involved with extra-curricular activities.

Teens who are not coordinated, gain coordination through acting exercises, many character actors learn to engage in physically demanding acrobatics onstage. Hand-motor skills are sharpened through the acts of building and assembling sets, dancing in a musical, or handling props on stage. Teens learn team skills through sharing the stage and working together to create a production.

Students not otherwise exposed to classical literature become exposed through high school theater departments. Actors read, devour, and memorize lines from Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, and other great playwrights. Fellow student theater-goers are then exposed to the classics onstage. While many students have been forced to read Shakespeare for English classes, seeing the productions in person not only brings Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet alive, but also makes Shakespeare more approachable, and therefore making it more likely for teens to be further exposed to literature and culture.

While most people think of theater as a non-competitive field, it can be just as brutally competitive as any team sport. Competition creates drive in students, prompting them to employ drive academically as well as in extra-curricular activities. Theater groups regularly compete through One Act Play competitions, as well as competitions through oral recitation, set building, and costume design among many other categories. By striving for success, and gaining respect with peers through competition, teenagers’ self-esteem increases.

However, one of the greatest gains of a theater department is one of the most-often ignored gains of technical skills. Students in theater departments learn how to operate light and sound boards, along with building of sets. By gaining these skills in high school, students are more likely to pursue a technical education after high school. Some of the highest paying and fastest growing jobs are in technical fields. Unfortunately, due to the push by teachers for students to enter into the traditional four year university and academia, graduating seniors often ignore technical colleges, instead opting for a career with fewer job outings and marginal earning.

High school administrators need to pay more attention to the benefits of theater departments, and stop cutting their funding. While technical knowledge, physical gain, self-confidence, exposure to culture, and competitive natures can be gained through other extra-curricular activities, anyone would be hard-pressed to find one activity or sport that allows and encourages all of these gains, other than theater.

 


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