Written by James Woodhams
A research study was recently published. Well, when I say recently, it was actually 2014, but for me that is recent. It is a study looking at the effect that high quality theatre has on students seeing it. Now, this is an American paper so it is looking at grades 7-12, which means students that are roughly 12 to 18 year olds. You might be thinking, why on earth is he mentioning teenagers on a children’s theatre blog page? Well, to the theatre world, teenagers are part of the Theatre for Young Audiences sector, and it is just as important that they have their own specialist theatre.
Anyway, got a bit off track there. Where was I… Ah! The study. So. The paper concludes with a statement that essentially says: with young people, watching theatre productions leads to enhanced knowledge of the plot, increased vocabulary, greater tolerance and improved ability to read the emotions of others. The lead researcher goes on to say:
“What we determined from this research is that seeing live theater produced positive effects that reading a play or watching a movie of the play does not produce. Plays are meant to be seen performed live. You can’t always take your kids to a play but if you can, you should. The story can be conveyed in a movie, but it doesn’t engage the viewer in the same way.”
Jay Greene, professor of Education Reform
Are those in the theatre world surprised? Absolutely not. Theatre is a place where young people (of all ages) get to explore new emotions and experiences, and learn in a safe, communal environment. Theatre can make you laugh, cry and feel elated. It can excite the imagination. It holds the potential to make strong, rounded young people. In fact, theatre is probably one of the only communal events still in existence in our country devoid of the insular technology of filming everything. That in itself is an experience worth time and commitment.
Now one of the most important parts of this paper is the fact that it’s talking about high quality theatre. Let’s be honest – everyone will remember awful productions, be that now or in their youth. They feel like a waste of time. This is the problem we are experiencing in children’s theatre: how can we produce high quality theatre that has this amazing impact, if there is a severe lack of money pumped into the sector? The chances of brilliant productions reaching children, especially those in disadvantaged backgrounds, are pretty slim. The government and councils need to invest in quality children’s productions that will reach young people from every walk of life and each demographic.
And while I’m making a wish list, do you know what else would be great? If children were encouraged to see productions outside of a school environment, to venture out to other venues. Can you imagine how wonderful the world would be if going to see a play in an actual theatre was part of the national curriculum? And it was heavily subsidised as well so young people could not only see one show, but a variety of excellent shows? The study sets the stage for these ideas, let’s hope it’s curtain up time for them soon.
James is a Freelance Theatre & Film Director. He is a lover of Theatre for Young Audiences, and would like to specialise in this field. He currently is studying an MA in Theatre for Young Audiences at Bath Spa University. Follow him @JCWoodhams