Theater is important because of its practical applications in real life as well as its impact on society and our culture. Theater has lessons for people of all ages, whether you’re a teenage kid looking to know more about life or an adult looking to add meaning or diversion. Being an actor in a stage production allows you to learn about life situations through someone else’s eyes. This may lead to greater empathy for those struggling outside of your realm of understanding.
There are several ways of learning but two methods of learning always stand out.
You can learn by doing. When you experience something directly, it has an impact on your life. For instance, we have more respect for fire after we get burned, or have greater respect for eating healthy after receiving an unfavorable diagnosis. These examples while grim, have their own personal lessons to teach. However, there are positives as well! We learn to keep focused after hard work pays off, or we learn a deeper love for people after we start caring for those around us.
The other method is learning by observation. When other people share their experiences it gives us the opportunity to learn through their eyes. Someone may share a story about a vehicle accident caused by texting while driving. I may make the decision to choose to never text while driving because of someone else’s experience. Or I may learn about the power of being non-judgmental from watching a piece of theater, like Shrek the Musical. The movie shows how someone who considers themselves ugly can be judged. The stage musical teaches how beautiful people, like Princess Fiona, are judged to have the perfect life when she struggled inside every bit as much as Shrek.
How Does Theater Impact Society?
Verbal histories have been passed down for thousands of years. Many of these stories eventually become movies or pieces of theater because of what they teach. Theater gives these stories (and more) a visual backdrop and in many ways brings greater awareness to important matters.
Theater enhances creativity. These days, it seems society is teaching us what to think instead of how to think. For example, if you ask someone to tell the story of a man entering a room just to sit in a chair, they may simply tell it as it was explained. “Jon entered the mostly empty room, to see that in the center was a plain wooden chair. Feeling a bit weary from the day’s activities he decided to sit down and rest”.
Now tell the exact same story from the viewpoint of the chair! “Oh no! I hear those footsteps coming up to the landing. Not again! I’ve been through this ordeal thousands of times. Jon-the-chair-sitter comes again! The door is opening, what can I do?! There he is! He’s looking tired, which means I have to bear his weight for at least the next 4 hours. Please take me away!”
The ability to look at a situation from several points of view helps us work our creative muscles and theater is an application that allows us to stretch those muscles.
This unlocking of creativity leads to a path of self-discovery and expression. Expression comes in many forms. Through dance, poetry, singing, or even the playing of an instrument, theater is a hub where all of these forms of expression are featured and celebrated!
Another impact theater has on society is the keeping of our history and education of our audience through this expression. Hamilton is an incredible example of how history and theater meet. 10 years ago you could have asked 100 people who Alexander Hamilton was and I would venture to say not many people would have responded with any meaningful answer. Today, after its success on broadway tens of thousands of people now, can relay any number of accurate historical facts regarding Alexander Hamilton.
Does Theater Have A Practical Purpose?
This question is becoming more important these days while it seems funding for the arts gets cut in schools nearly every year. Like in sports, people learn discipline, teamwork, goals, and hard work, theater has its own lessons to be learned.
- Being a part of a team. Most theatrical productions place you in with others, You need to decide for your character how to react to others. This in turn helps us practice for encounters in our own lives.
- A greater understanding of others. You meet people from all different walks of life, and everyone has a different reason to be involved in the theater. Getting to know others helps us outside of theater as well.
- Time management. Learning your lines, dances, songs, and harmonies, as well as properly using props and possibly stage combat is a lot of things to become proficient at in a production. You must manage learning these skills, many times while managing your daily life as well.
- Building Confidence. There is a fine balance between being comfortable with who you are and having the desire to improve. Theater provides the opportunity for creating little wins through auditions, callbacks, and performances. These little wins combined have an impact on self-confidence.
- Learn to accept feedback. The director is in charge and it’s their story to tell. Your interpretation may not be the one the director is looking for. Theater can teach you to accept feedback graciously opening up the opportunity for growth.
How Does It Help Kids?
We’ve all heard the phrase how it takes a village to raise a child. I believe this goes back to our previous point of being able to see life from different viewpoints.
Dr. James Catterall of UCLA’s Graduate school of Education has researched the involvement of children in the arts and has reported that the arts stimulate both hemispheres of the brain and attribute lower drop-out rates and higher tendencies for community service to students who participate.
Theater teaches children patience and positive reinforcement. As technology progresses children often get into the habit of instant gratification. The process of theater is one of preparation and growth. Preparing for production requires the personal sacrifice of time. Learning lines, and choreography take time and patience in one’s self and with others. These are skills that can be taken into any job field.
Theater teaches children empathy and morals. Morals can be found in most stories, Little Red Ridinghood teaches the importance of being careful who you trust. While it’s a Wonderful Life the musical teaches the value that one person can make in a family and a community.
However, these lessons don’t just come by word of mouth. Theater provides an immersive experience of how to feel for others, whether you’re the antagonist or protagonist. You analyze the impact of your actions and use that energy for your character. Many times someone playing the antagonist comes out and says, experiencing these emotions (even though while in a completely safe environment) teaches the actor they never want to be the cause of this pain, and make the choice of good moral standing.
How Does It Help Adults?
How many times do you learn that someone participated in theater in high school or college and then decided to give it up? I can’t even count how many people I’ve spoken with who have the desire to get back into theater but simply don’t know how, or are hesitant to get back on stage. They feel that theater is for the professionals or even just for children. However, Regalo Theater Company believes strongly that theater is still for adults as much as anyone.
When you participate in theater as an adult you still have the ability to further your career skills while having a creative outlet at the same time. Many adults use theater as a kind of therapy. It allows them to take a step out of their own life and see things from a different perspective. Here is a list of other benefits adults can experience by being a part of theater:
Hones in your empathy skills. – Adults are used to needing to fend for themselves, for their spouse/significant other, and for their children. Seeing how to address these concerns through the eyes of your character aids in empathy.
Builds confidence in public speaking. – I’ve seen the timidest of people deliver a monologue with power and authority. It was almost as if the ability to step outside of yourself and be someone else, even for only a few minutes brings that confidence back to themselves when the monologue is over. Exploring it as a character is like practice for real life.
Becoming Deadline Focused. – Whether being an actor in a production or helping with set building, costumes, or box office sales, theater teaches the importance of deadlines. All departments of a show rely on the other to keep their deadlines and deliver in a timely manner. This can be difficult at times as most community theaters are volunteer positions. but a show can’t launch comfortably if any one of these departments is behind in their deadlines.
Learning to communicate with positive intent. – There isn’t time in a production to repeat oneself whether giving notes on blocking, choreography, or singing. It becomes important to speak openly with candor, and assume the feedback is for the good of the show. When we’re all focused on making the show better there isn’t time for taking feedback personally.
You Get Out Of Theater What You Put In
Participating in theater has a world of benefits we haven’t even covered but at the end of the day, theater is for everyone. Whether you are acting, building the production, or simply want to see a good story, the theater has benefits for all participants.