If you’re here, on this beautiful website, taking time to read this article, my guess is that you already know WHAT high school theatre is. The rushing around in the wings, the smell of hairspray in clouds, the bright lights and loud clapping of friends and families. You’re probably involved in some way, or want to be at least. Which is fantastic. But the big question that not only are we asking, but that school districts everywhere are asking, is WHY do we do high school theatre?
Now, I could give you the obvious answers. You know that surface level stuff. Trust me, you’ve heard them before, it’s filler answers like ‘it’s fun, entertainment value, etc. etc.’ but those reasons are not the cause of so many changed lives. A high schooler doesn’t blossom into a leader simply because they had a “good time”. It’s something more. It’s gotta be something that is recurring because we’ve had theatre since 532 B.C.E. This growing community of artists is not a trend. It’s an established way of life. And I’m pretty confident in saying it’s because of three things:
If you’re not in high school right now, you’ve been there. We all have. It’s a required rite of passage to adulthood, but boy, what a rough one it is. Approximately 20% of teenagers will experience depression before adulthood. That’s a serious number of children affected, and while theatre can’t cure depression in any way, shape, or form, an important part of every teenager’s development is their self-esteem. Self-esteem that normally takes a dark turn in high school, a time when everyone is comparing themselves to everybody else. Now wait, you might be thinking, Theatre is all about comparing yourself to other people. That’s the point, right? Auditioning and competing for roles and positions of power backstage, how on this green earth is that supposed to HELP with our esteem? It helps because it’s not a fight to the death, it’s a competition with support, that, at the end, finds a place for everyone to contribute. And it’s that contribution that you fought to give, that is appreciated by a house of people clapping for you, and a community that has been built around you, that lifts up each and every individual.
This is a big world. This world has so many people in it. People have so many different ways of life, beliefs, and cultures. The beautiful thing about theatre is that it produces not just shows, it creates a story. And more often than not it’s based on the history around us. Students participating in any show are learning about the world and people around them by actually becoming a part of whatever story they are portraying. Theatre is important, “because it shows you how to interact with and be a more cultured individual.” (Rachel Meltzer, S.T.O.) Rachel puts it perfectly. Because not only are you becoming a more cultured person, you’re learning to communicate and coordinate with everyone around you by respecting where they’ve come from, which is super important when venturing out into the real world after high school, whether it be in theatre or not. And technicians as well receive a huge wealth of knowledge from all the work they do and the skills they learn to prepare them wherever they go.
Nothing connects you closer to the humans around you than to study and portray them on stage. Actors have to delve into the roots of emotion and accurately show the wide variety of personalities and situations in our world. We all know the phrase ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,’ but that becomes quite literal when you put on a costume for a character. Hearing about a tragedy and actually having to research and be a part of the tragedy are two completely different things, and they both evoke two completely different reactions. Kids in theatre feel more deeply for those around them because they are forced to feel all sorts of emotions for their respective shows. Theatre, “teaches empathy to those that need it the most.” (Elam Blackwell, STO and ITO) Empathy is so important in all aspects of life. It builds deeper relationships and helps you connect in situations like job interviews, helping those in need, and one day having a family. (Whatever kind it may be!)
Theatre is the pinnacle of so many kid’s lives, not only because it’s fun, but because it’s build character, not just the ones you see on stage. The way that this community builds teenagers up brings people together in way that makes them stronger than ever before. It creates a need to work, to share, and to be a part of the world. It’s passion, pure and simple, and our education system needs it.