We all know how important arts education is for students of all ages. Participation in the arts has been shown to improve academic acheivement across in all different subject areas. Studies measuring creative thinking, critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning all find these functions increase and improve when arts education is added to the educational mix. Dancers tested better on memory and motion processing than non-dancers and musicians demonstrated better auditory-visual discrimination and aural recognition than non-musicians. Another study has found that through visual art studio classes, students develop habits of mind for sustained focus, imagination, close observation and articulation of their decision-making process. Theater combines all of these disciplines into one.
Theater is so much more than saying lines on a stage. Acting is a major part, of course, but there's so much more going on backstage than you might imagine. There are other artistic skills at play: costume design, lighting design, set design, directing, et cetera, and those translate into foundational skills that are useful everywhere: sewing, electrical engineering, construction, management… The list of skills that students can learn by doing theater is endless, and the benefit that students feel is unmatched.
Not convinced? Maybe Zoe Handwerk, an 8th grade student at Middletown Area Middle School, can prove it to you.
"Since I was little, I was involved in anything I could join; I was always busy. I started instrumental lessons when I was four, and ever since, I have been involved with music. I love performing. I love the feeling of performing something I enjoy. However, my first experience acting wasn't until I was ten in a local summer camp. From the set design, music, and lighting, I had always admired the dedication required to put together a show, and suddenly I was part of it. I was hooked!
Yet, what makes theatre special? I've been involved in many activities, from sports to sewing classes, but what exactly was it that made theatre stick out? What made it unique to me is that theatre can be anything, and I can be anyone I want to be inside of it. There's escapism, a community, careers, and entertainment all put together. Theatre combines movement, music, acting, directing, dancing, literature, design, and a live audience into a single experience, creating a form of art that is not only entertaining but expressive. It has the ability to amaze and inspire people, whether a cheerful musical or a sorrowful play. It allows others to feel what others are feeling and immerse themselves in the storyline.
Theatre is escapism- it lets you let go of any troubles and relieve stress. As an audience member, you become invested in the storylines and into the characters onstage. You forget anything that has been happening in your own life for a few hours and look into the lives of others. When acting, it is the same. You leave your own story for a moment to tell someone else's.
Furthermore, theatre has taught me, and many others, about empathy. Not only is acting telling a story, but it is also about portraying another person- talking how they talk, moving how they move, thinking how they think, and feeling how they feel. As an audience member, you get to see and feel with the character as well. You understand the characters' emotions, beliefs, and flaws. You begin to better understand personal circumstances and how they can affect somebody's thought processes and beliefs.
Additionally, theatre has taught me to express myself more effectively than ever before, both on and off stage. I have been able to communicate my thoughts and feelings to others more efficiently and collectively. Not only this, but being involved in theatre requires a significant amount of commitment and time. Due to this, I have been able to organize and manage my time in a well-rounded manner. I am now capable of managing sports, school, homework and theatre while meeting deadlines in a timely manner.
Lastly, theatre creates a sense of community, for both those involved in the shows and the audience. Everyone attending is connected through passion and understanding. It shares a unique experience in which connects both people in the same room and people across the world. I am so glad theatre has found me."