For those of you who don’t know I teach at Homestead High School in Mequon Wisconsin. We are lucky enough to have a full time theatre program and I am lucky that the administration likes me enough to keep on hiring me back. The teachers are back for the kick off events held for our 2017-2018 school year. These are used to energize the faculty and address issues we want to face head on for the year. In one of these meetings we were asked how our subject matter should be reflected in our school’s mission statement.
Traditionally with the arts, us art teachers (music, theatre, art, dance) have to force our subject matter into the mold our school-district and state forms for the core classes, but this question… this new challenge was not a challenge at all. How does theatre teach our mission statement? How can it? How should it?
Here is our Mission Statement, I must say, I have enjoyed it everyday since we adopted it some odd years ago.
Homestead High School’s mission is to equip all students with transferable skills, promote academic independence, foster social responsibility, and inspire a passion for learning.
The question is not should, the question is, “Where does this subject reflect our school’s mission?” My answer to you is in every fold.
Theatre as a general artform equips everyone with skills that they will use on the job, at home, in life. It promotes independence by giving students the agency to work alone or together, to ask questions and figure out problems by themselves. Theatre forces everyone to work together, to create one thing together. Theatre cannot happen without help, without the social aspect and mutual respect needed to work in a group. And passion… passion is key in the process of theatre. Theatre covers all subjects, it is science and math, it is English and Social Studies as well as the other arts and allied arts. In some countries theatre is taught in every subject as a supplement to the course. On the flipside, every subject is taught and utilized in the Theatre Department. In essence we are the living embodiment of our school’s mission statement.
This mission statement is a well thought out attainable goal for life: have skills for life, know how to do things on your own, be an active community member and have the need to continually improve yourself. In essence, learn how to live life.
Good thing theatre represents conscious reflection on life. Abstracted from everyday living, theatre is filled with symbolic activities that examine our belief systems. It challenges us, allows us to focus on social issues that need to be discussed, and forces us to live the life of someone else, someone we might not want to be. Theatre keeps us striving for perfection when it presents the best and worst in human nature through the approachable vehicle of entertainment. Theatre offers a safe domain in which to examine the volatility of human nature. It is a battlefield for moral passions, social justice and truth.
“The stage is a magic circle where only the most real things happen, a neutral territory outside the jurisdiction of Fate where stars may be crossed with impunity. A truer and more real place does not exist in all the universe.” (P.S. Baber, Cassie Draws the Universe)
But… while theatre is a mirror to our world, it is also not. It is a challenge to our world. A famous physical theatre artist, Antonin Artaud rejects the idea of theatre as a mirror and instead challenges us to show the subtle gestures and actions that are ingrained in us as a society and as different social groups. We take these actions and make them grotesque, repeating them, showing society that the masks we carry need to be broken and changed. For Artaud, the performance is not complete unless it awakens in the audience the awareness of the truth that is hidden under social convention. So the audience cannot be a passive, separate entity — merely observers. The audience must be made part of the performance; it has to be placed in the midst of the performance, surrounded by the actors who do not act before it but upon it. Theatre then becomes true theatre, the Theatre of Cruelty; “cruelty” means setting off images “that shake the organism to its foundations and leave an ineffaceable scar.”
Those are my Theatre beliefs in long form.
In short form its…
Theatre is life, theatre is passion and change, theatre is activism and empathy.
Take theatre in school, you don’t have to go into it, but take a course in elementary school, middle school, high school or college. Find a way to infuse theatre into your life, I promise, you won’t be disappointed.