Theaterosphere thoughts on Educational Theater

Educational Theater is getting talked about on the theaterosphere.  Laura mentions over at Trailing Spouse Blues when asking:

Why are we dumbing stuff down for our children? I realize perhaps Sarah Kane is inappropriate for 10-year-olds, but not everything on the fringe is inappropriate. Wouldn’t we be serving our own long-term purposes better as an industry if we were able to introduce the theatre we really want to produce to kids and teens? Can’t we structure programs around that somehow? Why not have a teens-only open rehearsal so they can watch the process? Or invite them to a show with a special reception/talkback event? Or, better yet, go where they are. Can we Twitter the rehearsal process? Build some sort of Facebook application tie-in with the game? Blog something they’re going to seek out and read?

Laura is hitting on an “age old” struggle of theater for young audiences.  The idea that theater for young people always has to be separate from the adult theater.  This was a core discussion point in our Theater for Young Audiences class this summer at NYU Steinhardt.  One that many practitioners have struggled through and thought about in the past.  As I mentioned in my previous post, Maja Ardal is one of those artists.  In the book, How Theater Educates, she writes an article about her experience working with theater for young audiences in Toronto.  Her experience speaks directly to Laura’s questions.

Children are not literal-minded as many would have us believe. They understand metaphor and they understand imagery. They understand that theatre is an experience to reflect upon, not to obey, that theatre is an imagery world of ‘what if’ and not the ‘only world’. We need to show children the messy aspects of life. As artists we are not here to answer. We are here to question, and to invite our audience to question with us.

The second half of Laura’s quote intrigues me.  Ryan Kuder was recently fired from Yahoo and twittered about the whole experience.  Up to the minute accounts all on twitter.  Through it he received condolences and job offers.  The theater as a whole needs to embrace Web 2.0, but when it comes to educational theater and dealing with young audiences this is key!  The young audiences of today are 2.0.  The web for them is not 2.0 because many of them did not interact with the web before there was myspace, facebook, IM, etc. Theater needs to give priority to internet/social marketing and I think those involved in educational theater can be the ones to show the rest of the theater industry how it can work.

Nick picks up the discussion over at Theater for the Future and runs with the themes of experience and immersion.  How through experience and immersion the kids will naturally be built into wanting to be involved long term with the theater.  This seems like the natural next step from getting young people hooked online through social marketing.  Maybe through the web a young person is convinced to see a show his/her friends are in.  That leads them to be involved the next time something is available.  One of Nick’s arguments for involvement is that young people are already over-committed with sports, AP classes, etc.  That might be the case but a young person will commit to what he or she really wants to do.  I played three sports till the end of junior high.  In high school I committed to doing basketball and drama.  My senior year I decided to “take it to the next level” and do community theater in the neighboring town and the show conflicted with basketball.  I had to make a choice and I chose theater because I knew I wanted to be involved in theater long term and basketball was not going to last past high school.

This story does not compare to the story over at The Next Stage.  A proactive twenty-year-old was inspired to produce a film of Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth.  All while recovering from brain surgery!  Check out the story as it is worth the read.  Students who fall in love with film and theater will commit themselves to it.  So lets keep working on giving students the opportunity to fall in love.

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    7 thoughts on “Theaterosphere thoughts on Educational Theater

    1. Erin C.

      One of the more compelling pieces of theater I have seen is a youth theater production of “The Laramie Project.” I know that children performing theater is a little different than the TYA (performing for children) you are talking about, but the beginning of this post made me happily remember this production. I was amazed at the ability of these children to tell such a dramatic (and politically charged) story. It would have been a shame if this company avoided “Laramie” because of the content. Theater opportunities like this give children an outlet for communication and expression, and the children involved with “Laramie” benefited immensely.

      I think your point of theater lasting well past sports is a valid (and insightful) one. I made a similar decision- I was competing as a junior in tennis, and I was also an actor/singer. When I got into college I had to make a choice, and ultimately chose acting. Most of the arts (except for dance) can be for life, while sports will have a natural end when the body gives out. I believe so strongly in exposing youth to the arts, and appreciate that you are studying educational theater!

    2. Annie

      Hi Dennis,
      I’ve been spending the evening researching the educational theatre MA program at NYU and somehow I found your site on through google. I was wondering what concentration you chose? Just curious. Deciding on what grad schools to apply to is such a complex task. How have you found the program to be for you thus far?

    3. dennisbaker

      Hi Annie,

      Thanks for the comment. I am in the college and communities concentration. I do not have a desire to work in public schools full time and therefore did not get go on the teaching certification course. I think it is a great program to learn how to become a teacher. Their mean thrust is the idea of drama in education. Using drama to teach the other fields of math, science, social studies, etc. They are also focused in theater of the oppressed and social justice. There is plenty more I can tell you about the program. If you want to hear more or have specific questions drop me an email.

    4. Mary Ann Brandt

      I am a regular classroom teacher who went into the public school classroom 19 years ago after working with Viola Spolin for more than twenty years prior to that. I have been working with 5th and 6th graders for decades. Kids this age can appreciate and perform real theater for audiences of their peers and for adults. Six years ago, as part of a study on ancient Greece, two sixth grade classes joined to perform Aeschylus’ Oresteia – all three plays Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and the Eumenides. We also explored the history of the House of Atreus and put together our own short play to introduce the hubris and the curse behind the play. This year we are preparing Hamlet (a one hour version) for peers and adults. Kids, with coaching and respect, do appreciate serious theater.

    5. dennisbaker

      Thanks for sharing Mary. I emailed your comment to a few of my colleagues and they loved hearing of the work you are doing.

      Its great to hear that the students are jumping into the work. We just finished performing Greek scenes for our Acting/Directing class and we were struggling as graduate students so it would be exciting to see how 5th and 6th graders embrace the work.

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