Imagine spending every day of your middle school career feeling like you have nowhere to fit in. Your teachers are constantly asking you to sign behavior contracts and threatening you with dire consequences for even the smallest infraction, even if you’ve never broken a school rule in your life. You eat, drink and sleep rules, you feel isolated and alone and that you have nothing to look forward to every day.
Now imagine walking into a drama club meeting with children your own age, younger and older, and being given the opportunity to have fun. No lists of rules and restrictions. No detention for forgetting your red pencils, just a chance to express yourself through words, music, dance and creativity.
You get a part in a play. Only a small part, but it doesn’t matter. You’re one of the gang now. You attend rehearsals every day after school. You know the kids who are the stars of the show and the techies who will never walk on stage.
Older kids take you under their wing, help you learn your lines, and treat you like an equal. And the next day when you see them in the hall they don’t turn away from you because you’re a geek, they say, “hey how’s it going, see you at rehearsal!”
The director treats you like a young professional. He praises your efforts, supports your stumbles, lets you stretch your self-image to include reflections of newfound skills, hopes, dreams, realities.
Suddenly, you’re part of a multi-grade acting family. You laugh together, work together, strive toward your goal, and feel good about your lives. And even after the play is finished and the audience is gone, you see the members of that family everywhere you go and know that this is for keeps.
Kids get so much from theater in public schools that they don’t get from any other subject or activity.
Theater builds confidence, self-esteem, understanding, patience, speaking skills, concentration, cultural awareness, poise, hope-the list is endless.
Theater gives children a place, a sense of belonging, a clan, a posse, a gang, a way to cope with the stresses of growing up and the ability to say to themselves, with these friends, I can do great things. It teaches through commitment, patience and perseverance a better understanding of their peers than any lecture, peer mediation or bullying program ever will. It builds community in a school and should be viewed by public school administration as the valuable educational tool that it is.