The death of Theatre Education in the public school system

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June 30, 2009
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Theatre Art Education programs have been severly cut in public school systems throughout the country. Theatre arts education reaches a diverse group of students, some of which might not excel in a traditonal classroom enviornment but shine once given a mic and a song. For some children, it's a form of expression, for others, a kind of therapy. It's been statistically proven that most children perform better in a classroom when continually participating in regular theatre art education program. Many schools in NYC, in conjuction with MTI, have been trying to keep the arts alive in schools city wide, with great success. Now I ask this; what can be done on at national level? I feel teachers, administrators, parents, siblilings, communities as a whole, should try, and be able, to keep theatre art education alive in the public school system. Money is an issue for most, which is why these programs have been cut in the first place, but, if we all put our heads together, I know there must be a solution or a way to get the ball rolling. Any suggestions?
12 answers

Well stated, Tyler. I'm a high school drama director on the central coast of California (and have been director there for eight years). Your post made me think of our 2008-2009 season which included Mastrosimone's "Bang Bang You're Dead" (which is FREE to produce, by the way) followed a month later by MTI's "Willy Wonka TYA." Putting those particular shows back to back in the season at first glance seemed absurd (since we were working on them at the same time), but it worked out very well. Admission was free to "Bang Bang..." which helped get people to the theatre. They heard a great message and saw a great piece, meanwhile also getting publicity materials for "Wonka." The season allowed us to teach AND to entertain, and provided levels of material for different age groups. As we high school teachers choose our seasons, I've discovered that I have greater success if I try to plan a season that include something for everyone in the community as opposed to trying to find a show that includes something for everyone. Some years it's the musical that is the classic piece, others it's the play. I also always end the year with a student written comedy show, a la SNL. It is good writing experience for the students and also helps fill our coffers for the following year's productions (since we write it, it's royalty free!). Often that "silly show" is what gets new students interested in performing and they stick around for the following year. We must be creative and willing to change with the times to meet the needs of our students, our colleagues, and the community. Thanks for sharing your reflections, everyone!

June 2, 2010
Hey all, I completely agree with everything that's being stated - fantastic points and observations! It's easy to get caught up in 'self entitlement' (as one poster previously mentioned) and say "Well the arts deserve BETTER..." While I agree with this, as biased as I am, I do think we have to do more on our own. Take greater leaps in progressing both the fundraising and awareness. Simply said, complaining to your administration may not do anything - in fact, I've indeed witnessed an unsurprisingly negative reaction - and it may be enough to change how they view the arts. One thing we can do, however, is continue to show WHY theatre (in an educational setting) is relevant and powerful. Be innovative with your limited budgets and minimal support! Instead of putting on that fun cute musical, perhaps selecting an educational play with a strong message (i.e. an anti-bullying piece) is a wiser choice. Produce the play as a community event, perform it for your local schools, and maybe find an initiatve (directed to the play's theme) to donate towards. I believe that if more schools and theatre companies approached it in this way, we show them that the theatre is truly worthy of support, recognition, and awareness. ~ Tyler @ MTI

March 2, 2010
Hello Showbiz Chicago! I believe that a low cost theater program is better than no theater program. I'm sure the actors in the article are doing great work with those kids. At the same time, I hope programs that use low cost consultants will eventually turn the community on to the value of professional theater skills and the joy of community theater participation. When a school is willing to spend $150,000 on marching band AND $250,000 on football, plus pay the teachers a full time salary, plus pay them a bonus to be the director or coach, but at the same time cut theater to $25,000 in consultant pay--well, it tells you where their priorities are. What makes band or football so much more worthwhile (in terms of financial support) than theater? I'm not asking a philosphical question. I'm asking what can theater do to broaden it's appeal? These same parents and school board members who cut theater are renting a dozen movies a month and watching TV every night. Clearly they like a good story, well told. I tend to think it's the plays, the scripts, but then, I'm a playwright. I think producers and directors tend to choose the same old musicals everyone has already seen, or cutting edge plays that only appeal to urban/college audiences. I believe that not only Should we give the audience what they want, but we Must give them what they want, or we will be cut and cut till theater is replaced by movies on an iPhone.

March 2, 2010
Theater may be at the front of the pack, but music programs, sports, etc. are going the same way as revenues get smaller and mandates get bigger. Theater is expected to try and cover most of their cost. So is hockey though. The only sports that are kept up are football and basketball (which pay their way at better programs). The only way to overcome it is through leadership in the program. A good leader will get buy-in and involvement from parents and community, produce interesting theater, get excitement up and build. I have seen what happens when leaders simply believe they are entitled to do theater (deadly). Some teachers have a passion for it, but a lot of theater people are not into being a teacher. I like the idea of looking at outside sources - not just for cost cutting, but it shakes the dust off the entitlement mentality some have.

February 26, 2010
I would like to regenerate this discussion, if I may, as I feel it is a talking point that continually merits addressing. I agree with Mr. Burgess's view that the development of sustainable arts programming must come from the community itself; individuals, families, and students must make an investment of interest, time, and funds to ensure that theatre arts education is not wiped out. There was in article in the LA Times this past week regarding one Catholic school's response to budget cuts (see link below). What are your thoughts on this? Perhaps this course of action could be a response to all of those passed referendums that our districts are grappling with.,0,3412501,full...

February 12, 2010
Theater Education has to be addressed at a local level. It is easy to get a sense of entitlement about what should happen. Problem is that suggests that the people who are stopping you have some other agenda. There are many benefits to the arts that don't involve tons of money and if there are passionate people working with it, it can grow. I have seen a couple of examples in the middle of nowhere (central Wisconsin), where communities and high schools have started from little to nothing. Engage the kids, there parents and the community. Do what you can and find the audience. As you work on it you can grow the audience and the excitement. I know that many sports work only with volunteers for a long time until the popularity increases to where the community sees it as truly valuable. Sorry for rambling - thoughts going a hundred miles an hour.

February 9, 2010
I have two humble suggestions: 1) Do more readers theater, because that way you can put on twice as many plays for half as much money and creat more and more loyal fans that enjoy and support the arts. 2) More publicity, especially publicity that shows how MANY kids are involved with the arts, how MUCH they are learning and how those skills are REAL WORLD skills that will help make them better citizens and employees. This shows the real world VALUE of putting money into the arts programs.

February 8, 2010
The theater department could do more fundraisers, that'd work for money. I'm so glad my school still has a good theater department, I love it! I think more plays should be publicized in their cities, whether it be from school or professionally done, to raise appreciation.

February 8, 2010
Hi All, I'm new to posting here, but this caught my eye. I'm a board member of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) and many of our initiatives are targeting this very issue. March marks "Theatre In Our Schools" month (TIOS) and there is a nationwide essay contest, along with regional conferences geared toward celebrating theatre in our schools. This is a great way to celebrate theatre in your location. If you would like more information about it, just check out and see if there is something going on near you that you can get involved with...the important thing to me is to keep fighting for it. The passion we have for how theatre changes lives loses something once translated through someone/thing else.

January 14, 2010
I agree that every department should have to raise some funds for themselves through various fundraisers.