School Theatre is for rich schools.”
I was actually told that – by a
PRINCIPAL – when I went in to talk about spending a day in his
school & asked why there wasn't a Theatre program.
And it isn't
the first or only time I've heard comments like that.
As I travel, I've learned that in
regions with a higher concentration of Title I schools, many schools
have music programs, maybe fine art programs, but often not Theatre
programs. If an area is fortunate, there will be a Magnet School for
Arts that kids can apply to attend part-time. But
the past month it has been near to impossible to find the kind of
Theatre programs I want to visit. So many of these schools have
shifted curricular focus to accommodate for repairing low test scores
- accommodations which often result in losses of arts.
So, I've ended up spending a lot of
time in English classrooms lately...and occasionally a teacher is
also running an after-school program that puts on one or two
productions in a year.
What has surprised me is that even
those teachers feel the way the aforementioned principal does. When
I ask 'why' I am met with the obvious answer – productions cost
money...and many people associate having a Theatre Program with just
putting on shows. Many schools and staff aren't aware that there is
a HUGE difference between having a trained teacher teacher Theatre
classes and having that person put on a production.
I do not believe that they provide the
same opportunities or experiences.
And I do not believe that having a
production or two a year is an adequate substitute for having an
educator teaching classes.
But I do not know how to help a
principal understand that.
Especially when, in all reality, I
cannot prove with statistics the importance and relevance of Theatre
in the classroom the way music can. I cannot give the principal the
names of important and influential figures who tout the critical
impact learning Theatre in school had for them. And the educational
field today demands statistics from us in order to validate
everything we say.
So I told the principal this: “You
are right. Only rich schools should have Theatre. After all, only
rich schools have kids who need to understand empathy, compassion,
read, write, speak well, and become important members of this world.
I'll make sure to share that with the poor kids at the school where I
taught Theatre, because I have clearly been doing a disservice to
them all these years.”
I won't make a difference by having
But I don't need to.
Instead, he made a difference in me by
what he said.