Education In One Fell Swoop
What if you could provide your child with an education that teaches him/her 16 or more different skills and understandings with one program of study?
3. Classical Western Literature
5. Creative Problem Solving
6. Cultural Studies
9. History/Social Studies
16. Life Skills
It sounds like a thorough and all-inclusive program of study. It is. It is also what is expected of a full theatre curriculum. I’ll indulge in some elaboration.
Business studies such as budgeting, and personnel management are key to running a theatrical production. With the business component including an understanding of the professional hierarchy, theatre studies are able to provide a basic business training in managing spreadsheets, scheduling meetings, materials management, hiring of personnel, etc.
Chemistry is a practical science as well as a formulaic one. Showing a student the chemical reactions of paints, solvents, adhesives, as well as the biochemical reactions of makeup, theatre can act as an extension of the chemistry lab.
Classical Western Literature may seem an obvious fit with the works of Shakespeare, Moliere, Middle English works, The Greek and Roman dramas, etc. But beyond the pages is the realization that these works were meant to be performed. Literature educators give out roles and have students read the words. Great literature educators have students perform a section of a great masterpiece. Theatre educators also teach the literature, but add the human connection to the performance delving into the actor’s connection with each character.
Collaboration in the theatre is vital, as in most industries. In any company with which I direct, one of the first speeches I give is to this effect, “Whether you have one prop to place on the stage or 300 lines, you are all equally important to the show. No one is better than anyone else, tech, actor, stage manager. We are all here for the same purpose, to make a great piece of art.”
Creative Problem Solving, the art of thinking on your feet is an essential life skill. It is not only when you miss a line that you have to improvise in the theatre. Things can go wrong or right on many levels. Technical accidents happen during shows. In process of rehearsal or writing, quick u-turns or complete overhauls can happen in a heartbeat. It is one of the joys of live theatre, we call them happy accidents, in fact they are the constructive opportunities that occur daily in all occupations.
Cultural Studies and the knowledge of ways of life other than one’s own are valuable assets in any career. Theatre has been a part of the human experience prior to written history. Every boundary drawn on a map has beyond it a unique and interesting take on the art of communicating ideas, emotions, beliefs and history. These are crucial to a solid theatrical foundation. Students in theatre programs will have varied cultural experiences on a very deep level.
Economics is a baffling science to study from a book for most of us. Put it into object lessons and practical experience and it changes entirely. Giving students the opportunities to budget a production from start to finish gives many levels of experience and learning. Producing a work of theatre is a juggling act on a high wire above a fire ring surrounding a pool of sharks. Balance is key. There are so many balls in the air, you must make sure all aspects receive the attention and funds required to function properly.
Engineering is the realm of tech theatre. Electrical, audio, civil, mechanical, they are all covered. Tasks and training in such things as designing and constructing sets, laying wire for lighting, focusing 750 watt lighting instruments and programming them to go on at the right time, intensity, and speed. Are just the tip of the mountain that is technical theatre.
History/Social Studies are tied inseparably to theatre. The majority of what we know about a civilization and it’s culture comes from its art. Theatre has been an intrinsic portion of all civilizations throughout time. It is how we share a living example of our human story.
Math is a word and function that most would not equate with an art form. That is such a misnomer. There is meter in the language, calculations in the design, equations in the budgeting, and the list is endless. The fact of the matter is, to teach this art form, you must teach numbers and functions, geometry, and algebra.
Physics studies the science of the physical world. Theatre studies these attributes again through practical and mathematical example. A quick for instance is lighting. The primary colors of light and the visual spectrum are learned, but to see them in action by switching colors onstage is an entirely different experience. The way it travels, the distance of the throw of the beam, the placement of the lens that defines how far the light will be manageable.
Physiology of the human body is a strict study in theatre. The actor’s body is his/her instrument. Understanding how it functions, what are its limitations, how to maintain it are key to honing the instrument for a life of reliable use. Knowledge of one’s own body is the only way to transform it into a vision of someone else onstage.
Psychology allows us to better understand emotions. Seeking the truth of a character requires an actor to tap into his/her personal psychology and draw deep from experience while maintaining control of oneself. Being able to conduct the feelings of an audience through the use of a particular color light or backing soundtrack requires an understanding of the emotions humans express and conceal. Writing a script and directing a show are huge orchestrations of psychological play.
Reading beyond the surface and inside the lines of content allows for a deeper understanding of text. Reading of script itself requires this close reading by each and every member of the production. Research into time periods, historical and cultural context, etc. are tangents that actor, director, designer must travel to put forth a wonderful product.
Writing of scripts is a creative and lively process. Writing of proposals, formal production reports, press releases, grants, employee contracts, are all skills needed in the theatre. These things are taught by doing as I believe most of us can attest. Having guidance on these things will surely make the doing easier.
Last but not least, Life Skills. All of the things mentioned above have ties into life skills. We can see through the litany of descriptions our own professions reflected in the tasks outlined above. Theatre education prepares the student for life in a profound and lasting manner. This is not a plea to keep it in our schools, it is a call to arms to teach theatre on a level that lives up to having these and many more subjects in the classrooms of our children. We learn by doing, by experiencing life. Theatre emulates and tries to define life beyond the physical. Teach and teach well that we may have a bright and glorious future filled with well educated citizens who change the world.
by Jason Robert LeClair
Illustration & Theatrical Design