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Theatre In Education Essay


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The theatre education industry/movement has seen some rapid changes
since its initial developments and establishment in the 1960’s.
However its origins mainly lie in the early years of the last century.
It was the initial establishment of companies such as Bertha Waddell’s
in Scotland and Esme Church’s in the north of England that thoroughly
established the main roots of TIE. Mainly the initial aims of these
companies was to stimulate, educate and inform young people through
encouraging them to participate in enjoyable and imaginary based
theatre programmes.

Despite early attempts in Britain in the mid 1930’s, where a Glasgow
Director of education allowed the Bertha Waddell’s company to perform
in junior schools within school time, the majority of the advances
within the movement came after World War Two. Due to the nature and
after-effects of the time, many post war Education Authorities felt
the need to sponsor drama and live theatre companies to aid in their
areas learning processes. One could perhaps say that due to the sheer
devastation of the war many education authorities felt that through
the use of drama therapy and role play style interaction that students
would be able to address their true anxieties and would therefore have
a more rewarding time in post war school. Around this time parallel
groups were beginning to form in Birmingham and London. One of the
pioneers of these types of groups was Brian Way. Having established
his own theatre-in-education company in the late 1940’s, Brain
established his companies aims as being, to assist teachers in all
types of schools with methods of approach to drama in education. This
company began to be at the forefront of schools early experiments,
linking children, their education and theatre.

This expanded further and as it progressed throughout England was
mainly made up of amateur theatre groups consisting of largely
teachers who aimed to introduce theatre to children. However, the main
expansion of TIE came when a number of professional theatre companies
began the notion of creating these experiences and took them into

Towards the end of the 1960’s the TIE movement was given a dynamic
push in the right direction. This was largely due to the new style of
teaching and curriculum delivery that was being implemented across
Britain. The ‘Plowden Report’ gave numerous advice on the delivery of
the school curriculum and a new style of “problem-solving” to teach
the syllabus was adopted throughout many primary schools. This new
“problem-solving” style of teaching allowed TIE to flourish, as
theatre could be used within schools to give examples of how to
successfully problem solve. This largely was done in the style of role
play situations and stemmed mainly from the teaching of alternative

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theatre practitioner Augusto Boal. Boal had many links with the
philosophy of TIE. Throughout his career Boal was engrossed with the
political oppression in many South American countries. He sought to
use theatre as a medium for confronting this oppression. One of the
key areas with which Boal concerns himself is the role of the audience
in the theatre experience. He strongly believes that the purpose of
‘theatre of the oppressed’ is to change the people (spectators), as
passive beings into the subjects, actors and transformers of the

For theatre-in-education the role of the audience is central. Based on
Boal’s theory the spectator is often used. By using the spectator
central to the performance you are effectively giving the audience a
voice and are thus stimulating the participants to take charge of
their actions and make changes to the piece. In essence, the viewers
become the viewed. Another central role is the role of ‘the joker’
who technically acts as a medium for the performance. He/she can stop
or start the performance as and when required and can effectively
referee the performance.

Further success in the 1950’s-60’s came in TIE, with the work of Joan
Littlewood and the Theatre workshop of London. Littlewood’s work
provided members of the audience with a channel through which they
were able to learn experience and express themselves. By presenting
theatre that directly represented the fears, aspirations and hopes of
the people who attended her plays, she was able to create a
‘continuous loop with the community. Infact one could argue that this
highly shows a dominant argument in the parallels between
theatre-in-education and community theatre. However, this is mainly
where the similarities end, as unlike community theatre, TIE is not
inherently political or serious. Instead it is always underlined with
a strong educational undercurrent.

With a strong foothold in education as a result of this initial
success TIE as a movement was further allowed to develop. Slowly,
particularly as drama emerged onto the curriculum most British schools
began to further see the benefits of theatre-in-education and thus
this allowed the movement to expand. Many community companies have
ventured into TIE and equally TIE companies have taken up community
theatre work.

Theatre-In-Education today occurs in many places, not only just
schools. It has been known to often take place in senior citizen day
centres, prisons, museums and art galleries. More recently it has even
been documented to have been effectively used within drug
rehabilitation centres.

Furthermore, TIE now benefits a variety of sectors within the
community, including, single parents, the homeless, and adults with
special needs and learning disabilities.

However, all theatre-in-education activities have one key element that
sets them apart from all other types of theatre. Its key role, to
inform and instruct a specific audience. Indeed, one could best
describe TIE as using theatre for the sole purpose of educating.

There are of course many strengths and weaknesses to
theatre-in-education. Its main weakness lies within the unfortunate
fact that it is not yet fully recognised by many local education
authorities as having true educational value therefore it is
increasingly difficult to allow the movements messages to spread to
wider audiences. Furthermore funding is not easily accessible so thus
limitations are put on the organisations capabilities. Its strength
lies within its flexibility. Conventionally the schools drama
curriculum has mostly adult drama therefore TIE establishes a new
angle which is more likely to be productive as it uses techniques
which allow for the children’s imagination to be used to its full
potential. Furthermore it often allows for issues to be raised that
might not necessarily be easy to cover by traditional teachers. For
example, it may highlight racism, homophobia, disability, all issues
that traditionally the classroom might shy away from; instead TIE
brings it to the forefront and allows for its open debate.

Given an ailing economy and the ever-increasing cost of entertainment, it can sometimes be difficult to justify to yourself spending money on events rather than groceries. This is especially true when deciding whether or not to bring your family to the movies or to a sporting event, during which there is no guarantee of the quality of entertainment. The movie could be a dud. The sporting event could be a blowout. The theater, however, at the very least, guarantees content, if not quality and execution. There is an educational element to theater that ensures that, even if the production is not executed to the capacity of its potential, it was worth watching. Of course, worth is in the eye of the beholder, but in an entertainment world where the most recent movies are typically the only ones offered in the theater, there are some theater standards which all but guarantee an evening of enjoyment and education.

Theater Funding Cuts

In 2009, Michigan Theater awaited $42,000 from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs to help fund their productions and activities. After the money had already been promised to them and built into their budget, it was pulled out from under them, forcing them to cut programs to deal with the crisis. This is just one example of hundreds if not thousands around the world. Governments, dealing with a worldwide economic recession, much like the people they were elected to represent, simply do not have the same amount of money for entertainment as they used to. Like private citizens, governments have bills to pay before they can pay for recreation, and so theaters have been forced to deal with less money, producing less expensive productions and cutting productions and programs entirely.

Why is Theater Education Important?

As school districts are forced to deal with less money coming from state and federal government, they are being forced to account for the ways in which they allocate their money. Often, the first extracurricular programs to be cut are those which do not bring much money into the school, meaning the arts. It is the general consensus of school boards and administrations that arts education is not essential education. Still there are many who, while aware that it may not be as essential as core curricula, vehemently disagree with the idea that it is less essential than any other recreational activity.

There are two questions which must be asked of an educational program to determine quality. First, does the program teach the history and importance of the subject matter? Second, does the program teach the students anything about themselves? The fact is, as much as one single academic subject may be of importance to any one person, much of what students learn in school is forgotten in adulthood. Thus, it is of equal importance that an academic program teaches students something about themselves. For example, while a student might not always remember the quadratic formula, they may learn that they have the perseverance and intelligence to do something which is difficult to understand. 

Theater teaches as much about the history and cultural significance of the performance arts as it does about the students participating therein. As much as the works of Shakespeare, Beckett, and Albee are taught to students in theater programs, they are simultaneously taught life lessons which may stay with them far longer than “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” In order to bring life and realism to a character, students are forced, often without knowing they are doing it, to study their own emotions as well as have compassion for the emotions of others. Without this compassion there cannot be understanding, and without understanding there is little hope that the student will be able to relay any emotion that is not his or her own. Confidence and self-esteem is built as students pour their individuality, their heart and soul, into a performance, and are literally applauded for their efforts. At the end of the day, theater education is important because students leave the program not only more knowledgeable students, but better people, than when they began.

Community Benefits

It has long been said that American theater is dead. The trouble is, in this particular instance, words have very little power. While it may be true that certain movements in theater might be dormant, there is and always will be a call for theater. One of the reasons people might think theater is dead is because the type of theater receiving the most press is the Broadway musical. Given the fact that Broadway is located in one corner of the country, and that few other theaters can afford to produce these kinds of productions, people often think there is nothing else, and therefore, excluding New York City residents, theater is dead. 

Community theater, however, has remained a staple of many communities across the globe, and these theater programs provide many benefits to their communities. Perhaps first among these benefits is the educational aspect. Community theater has the ability to expose its people to styles and methods of theater to which it may not be accustomed. Furthermore, community theater provides (usually) family-friendly entertainment. It can also be a cohesive element to an increasingly fractured community.

Get Involved

There are three main ways to help spread and maintain community theater. First, participate! Community theater programs are usually on the lookout for actors, directors, lighting technicians, musicians, music directors, hair and makeup artists, etc. to improve their productions. Second, publicize! While the participants of a community theater production will usually spend their own time publicizing their productions, they will always be willing to allow someone to spread the word further. Handing out posters, spreading information online through social media, and writing press releases all help increase attendance and therefore maintain an important part of any community. Finally, donate andfundraise! If there is one thing for which community theaters are usually on the lookout, it is money. Though most of the time participants in community theater programs are volunteers, materials, rent or upkeep, and materials all cost money, and it is up to the community, through local government and private funding, to pay these bills.

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