How Theater Teachers (You!) Can Effect Change
Stage Partners Education Director, Maria McConville, explores how fellow theater teachers can inspire self-awareness and acceptance of others.
There never seems enough time in the day...
We all have our personal reasons for why we teach theatre. There are singular moments in each of our lives that drew us into the art. Then there are the lessons learned (perhaps the hard way!) that we knew we had to pass on to others. And you’re here, reading this, because you have the great fortune of doing just that.
I’m asking you now to take this opportunity as an arts educator to draw your students in and use this ancient art to instill empathy, to encourage listening and to arm these young people with tactics to resolve conflicts peacefully.
I know. Easier said than done.
How do we offer guidance when there is no time in a school day?
Here are a few ideas for ways to make room for these little changes in your classroom.
1. Read the Greeks
This may seem like an arduous task. But those ancient Greek plays you read in high school and college were assigned for a reason. They taught you how to think, how to debate, how to wrestle with democracy. Most importantly, those plays made you consider morality.
The Greeks help us to understand that our actions have consequence, good or bad. These plays are worth examining with our young people.
2. Student Written Monologues
Not another writing assignment! I know.
What if the students had to write a monologue as the teacher they got along with least? What if you assigned writing a monologue from the perspective of a student with whom they had never spoken?
Perhaps a monologue in the voice of their parent?
Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is the way we can experience empathy. Theatre is important in schools because it demands that we look at the world through someone else’s eyes, that we understand why a person chooses to do the things they do.
3. Conflict Resolution Improv
Time to dust off those “Yes, And” or “As if” exercises.
Invite students to work out those tough conversations through improv. Within the safe environment you are providing, students are practicing being a patient ear, what it is like to feel heard and understood, and what it is like to make space for an idea that they do not necessarily agree with.
Do these ideas make huge, sweeping, immediate impact? ...No. But...
...these activities rewire the brain. They invite the participant to see the world around them as more open, as having more possibilities than what they may have thought.
What you do is so unbelievably important. Thank you for doing it.
Thank you for being there for these kids day in and day out.
Thank you for providing as safe a place as possible for students to feel accepted and for them to make mistakes.
Thank you for providing the applause.
Maria McConville has been a NYC Public School teaching artist since 2005. In the past she has worked with the Theatre Development Fund, LeAP! Onstage, and Periwinkle Theater for Youth, and as a Shakespeare and Playwriting teaching artist with Theatre For A New Audience. Her students have performed and adapted the work of Shakespeare, written their own plays, devised ensemble performance pieces, sang and danced in musical productions, and performed their peers work on a Broadway stage. Growing up in New York, Maria attended LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts for Drama, and recently adjudicated the auditions for incoming students. Maria is also a playwright; her published plays include "#Censored" and "#Viral" (Stage Partners) and "To Date or Not to Date" (Playscripts).