I teach kids to be dramatic. Actually, they are already dramatic with a wealth of imagination and natural ebullience. Even the shyest of my students loves the chance to become another person, even if only for a few moments. I merely coax, and laugh and share their enjoyment of theater and of each other.
My purpose is not to prepare kids for Broadway, though a few may head that way on their own. Rather I concentrate on the gifts that creative expression brings. Growing up as a drama kid myself my theater experiences enriched my life, nuancing every fiber of my being. I take my past and present enjoyment of the arts and pay it forward. There are so many great lessons in the dramatic process.
First of all drama teaches empathy. If the goal is to walk in another’s persona, it makes the actor take a moment and really consider what the exact experience of that character is. Where did they come from? What are their hopes and dreams, strengths and weaknesses? What is it that they are trying to say or be or know? Once a child stops and considers lives from other perspectives a whole new approach to others is possible. Kids instinctively apply this new skill in their own lives, becoming more socially open as a result.
Communication skills are a critical part of every child’s development. As a teacher it is my responsibility to create an environment of encouragement, free from fear. Constructive criticism is expected but it is offered with humor, understanding and affection. Self expression is a very human need. Game playing, skit building, sharing and performance all encourage communication. Once comfortable, kids very much enjoy the connectedness, the sense of belonging and acceptance that comes from sharing their selves with one another. As they become comfortable, their ease of expression grows.
I love to see my students bloom into confidence. Once they understand how much their contribution is valued they are eager to display what they are capable of and to try new things. I sincerely want to know how my students feel, and they know it. I take joy in their accomplishments and appreciate the great moments that I get to be a part of.
My students actually grow to love book reports and oral presentations. As adults they will know that they can get up and speak at a board meeting. Public speaking is listed very near the top of American fears, but an enjoyable drama education program can prove that those fears groundless. Everyone gets nervous. It’s okay to be nervous. Those nerves add extra energy and focus to presentation. We work together to learn that the fear does not have to rule you and that performance can bring true joy.
I love out-of-the-box thinkers and creative risk takers. Their successes are breathtaking, and when they don’t succeed it was worth the try. It is okay to fail sometimes. Before every performance I ask the kids if the show is going to be perfect. They all laugh and yell “No!”. They have learned that live performance rarely if ever goes the way you picture it. People will forget lines, someone may trip or the sound cues won’t work. We are not there to be perfect. We are there to have fun, to share the joy of performing as a team. Failing is part of life. To learn that life will not end if plans go awry gives children coping mechanisms. They learn to appreciate the good and less than perfect moments, and how to respond in positive and supportive ways. They know the show will not be perfect, but when I ask “Are we going to have a blast?” they enthusiastically shout a resounding “YES!”
Mine is not an international program but a small studio in a small town. Workshop class size is limited, the experience very personal. I am not getting rich but I am certainly rewarded and fulfilled. I truly love what I do. I try my best to foster communication skills, self-confidence and joy in performance. In return my students bring their energies, imaginations and enthusiasm. Together we cooperate, understand and create. Drama is improving our world.