How Theater Educates Students and Makes Strides in Academic Performance
In the past 10 years or so, theater has emerged as a viable field of study for many adults and students alike. And not all people consider it merely a form of theater, but rather a way to teach both life skills and creativity.
The Psychology of Performance
Many teachers have been engaging students through drama, acting, and other forms of performance for decades. But you’ll likely find the psychology of performance overlooked during the earliest stages of education and continued to be shunned by some educators after graduation. Yet, actually, research and reason indicate that a student’s performance as an actor actually benefits them in the long run.
A lot of people don’t realize that students generally view other students with more empathy in schools that serve as “community theaters.” Theatre helps reduce academic stress, raises awareness about theater, and opens up new artistic opportunities. Because of these things, many students will begin acting in high school and experience the benefits of performing for others on a continual basis throughout their academic and career lives.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Acting in theatre lessons can also help students form social emotional skills to deal with issues of aggression, power, and other issues. Shakespeare may be a go-to source for parents for their school-age children, but there are a whole universe of creative plays to explore.
Practice Can Improve Practice
Some more recent research finds that students who do physical theater can use their physical skills to improve their focus and ability to focus in other parts of their lives. As the French author and playwright Jean Cocteau once said, “When the mind is done its work, the body will attend to its more essential and necessary work.”
In contrast, “there was no need for the mind to do its work, since its more essential and necessary work was done by the body, and so-called ideal bodies,” Cocteau wrote.
Emphasizing physicality during theater is helpful because it can enhance focus, as students can use their free arm or hand to express frustration, tension, or anger. It also helps students improve their emotional skills by improving the ways in which they control their impulses, or alternatively, able to control their emotions when they have to act out the emotions. This builds social, emotional, and psychological maturity, traits which are good in any adult who is trying to enjoy every learning opportunity available.
One 2014 study even found that exercise helped students better prepare for future performances, effectively helping them become better actors. The study evaluated 120 high school-age students and found that students who participated in exercises to improve their motor skills, such as arm balances and push-ups, performed better than those who didn’t participate in the exercises. In addition, those who participated in exercises that tested judgment and memory also performed better than those who didn’t.
Useful Resources for Teachers and Students
There are several resources that can help teachers and students learn more about theater. One recently created to engage students of all ages is Theater 180. The site features a variety of questions for both teachers and students to explore at their own pace.
Students can find free and discounted theatre performance tickets and are encouraged to be active participants. The site also has information for educators and includes plenty of resources for further instruction.
A nice little resource that helps teachers provides both an engaging classroom experience for their students as well as a list of current performances and related events.
Learning From Emotions and Mental Processes
There’s a lot of history to build on for a skilled performer. Learn from the emotions that actors create when they perform, as it can be incredibly telling about their psyche. But it’s important to also teach students about the processes they develop. Studies have shown that our emotions will influence our thought processes, and can have important effects on how we perceive other people and the world.
Artistic expression is incredibly important to our well-being and ability to solve problems in our lives. By being able to express our emotions through our actions, we can gain confidence, skills, and direction in our own lives.
*Krzysztof Zamachowski holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling from the Pontifical Catholic University of Poland.