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Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

  • 1.  Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-02-2020 19:05
    Edited by Sean Graham 12-10-2020 08:12

    I am currently a native English teacher at a private university affiliated elementary school in Taiwan. This year I started a drama club with my students. My colleagues thought I was crazy as in previous years I had a Minecraft club with over 20 students and with the drama club I went down to 10, and we are paid based on the number of students in the club. But for me, it was a challenge and a passion. And I have loved every moment. No matter how bad my day is, I always look forward to the drama club on Wednesdays. My little group is even going to perform for the student recruitment day (an audience of over 500) this Saturday with a story they came up with.

    I have decided I want to try to pursue this more, however I have no formal training in theater. I was a thespian in high school and had lead and supporting lead roles in several shows. I also worked at Disney as a Jungle Cruise skipper (essentially a one-person show) as well as a guided tour guide (a 4.5-5 hour one-person show).

    I have purchased some basic textbooks on theater like, The Creative Spirit: An Introduction to Theater Fifth Edition by Stephanie Arnold and The Stage and the School by Harry Schanker and Katharine Anne Ommanney. I also bought a few books about teaching theater to children. I am currently enrolled in Moreland University which is an online teacher prep course that also helps your obtain your US teaching license. I plan on taking the Arizona subject teacher test in theater to become certified.

    I would like to ask the community if you have any additional suggestions to bolster my credentials given that my formal education is a BA and MA in anthropology and not theater.

    Thanks for reading and your suggestions.

    Click here for a link to my drama club's google site with photos and videos. If you are interested.

    Sean Graham
    Native English Teacher and Lecturer
    The Affiliated High School at Tunghai University, Elementary Division
    Xitun District, Taichung City

  • 2.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-03-2020 06:10
    I’ve been teaching theatre my whole career—high school, college, etc., and my go-to book has always been Viola Spolin’s Improvisations for the Theatre. It is no longer in print, but I’m willing to bet you can find a copy somewhere. I couldn’t live without that book. Best of luck to you—passion is 80% of the equation in this business. The other 20% is organizational skills—which can be learned.

  • 3.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-03-2020 08:03
    Edited by Valerie Scott 12-03-2020 08:06
    Completely agree.  Best book in my library. There is also a similar book with all the games called Theater Games for the Classroom-A Teacher's Handbook by Viola Spolin. (you don't need both)  If you can't find the first, perhaps you can find the second.  I taught  drama  for 30 years in a private school without a teachers certificate having attained  just a minor in theater in the School of Arts & Sciences.   Some states don't provide certification in Theater.  Some states provide a professional certification in which you list your professional work in the area for certification while the tell you classes you must take for future certification.  The love of children and what they gain through theater that they get in no other subject, plus a love of theater is all the true credentials you need.  What I wished I had was more training in the technical side of theater.  Sometimes the biggest battle is educating other educators in the value of theater to  their classes along with an understanding that some children, usually the out of the box ones they don't want in their classes, can excel in theater arts where they fail in other academia.

    Both of these books are on Amazon.  Your website is beautiful.  Such joy.  Keep going.

    Valerie Scott
    Perimeter School - 25 years
    Johns Creek, Ga

  • 4.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-04-2020 14:59
    Here Here for VIOLA SPOLIN - I also recently took a workshop with her grand daughter Aretha Sills in Los Angeles and it was a wonderful experience in refreshing the mind, body and spirit!  Great exercises and coaching for all teachers.  Look for Aretha's workshops on line at  She is the daughter of Paul Sills - Story Theatre fame and one of the founders of Second City.  This is all foundational work.
    Kristin Duerr
    Director of Drama 
    Notre Dame Academy Schools of Los Angeles

  • 5.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-03-2020 11:18
    Hi Sean,  

    How wonderful to give students this opportunity to expand their experience with and understanding of theatre. It may be challenging during the pandemic, but my recommendation is to do theatre and see theatre. It will enrich your own knowledge immeasurably. Find a way to participate in local productions. See as many shows as you can and take students to shows whenever possible or encourage them to go with their families. 

    My own experience was opposite of yours: I'd worked as a stage manager for 30 years when I started teaching it in a university, with no previous training in teaching. 

    Your students are fortunate to have such a dedicated teacher. 

    Linda Apperson 
    Stage Manager and Mentor 
    Milwaukie, OR

  • 6.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-03-2020 14:39
    Edited by Douglas Rome 12-03-2020 14:41
    I admit that Viola Spolin's "Improvisation. for the theatre" is the first book that came to my mind, too!
    If you lack theatre tech training, you may want to check out "Teaching Tech You Never Learned"

    Please discover ISTA (the International Schools Theatre Association), the worldwide trainer of the IB (International Baccalaureate) theatre program. They are marvelous theatre educators and run trainings all over the world.  They are at

    Working with them I would consider a bolster to your credentials.

    Have you contacted any theatre groups or improv troupes there in Taiwan? Network some. You'll be surprised what you will find!

    Douglas "Chip" Rome
    Theatre Consultant
    Educational Stages
    Burke VA

  • 7.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-05-2020 16:00
    I think there are a lot of great resources here at EDTA-- Teaching Theatre is wonderful as is Dramatics.  I get a lot of ideas from both publications.

    And, as others have mentioned, Viola Spolin has been pivotal in my teaching career; however, I actually use a little book called Theatre Games for Young Performers by Novelly as a sort of lesson planning scaffold for myself.

    Probably the most influential book for me over 31 years in educational theater has been and continues to be Charles Fowler's Strong Arts, Strong Schools.  Reading this text led to one of the greatest achievements in my eduational career and I think the text continues to be relevant today.  A chapter here and there, will in my opinion, inspire, lead and challenge.

    Good to hear from you and to learn of your program.  Best

    Michael Johnson
    Trinity NC

  • 8.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-06-2020 23:52
    Hi Michael,

    I wrote down these titles as I was hired by a private school, and I must admit that I am curious about what you're referring to when you said: "greatest achievements in my educational career", do tell!

    Many thanks!
    Karen Nielsen-Anson
    SLC, UT

    Karen Nielsen

  • 9.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-07-2020 08:00
    Karen, thanks for the question.  After reading the book, Strong Arts, Strong Schools, I developed an idea for an oral history collections, transcribing and adapting project that resulted in 20 performances developed by high school students in various communities throughout the state of Montana.  Students collected oral histories from older members in their communities, transcribed those histories in print, selected portions of the interviews for adaptation to performance and then performed those adaptations for members of their communities.  Most of the work was done by students in English classes in rural schools and they were helped greatly by their English teachers, but it was a lot of fun to help those students and teachers turn their stories into performances.

    My experience pointed out to me the importance of reflection, of research and yes of down time to develop and distill ideas.

    Michael Johnson
    Trinity NC

  • 10.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-07-2020 09:54
    Hi Michael,

    I'm sure this oral history project was well received, especially since you were, in many cases telling the stories, sharing the history of the people in the room. How wonderful to bring the project to light! I'm working on a similar piece with my 6th graders right now. In English, they are writing monologues about "telling the truth about what's under the mask...what they wish they could do if it weren't for COVID, and what figurative masks they wear" as well. In drama class, we are workshopping and bring those monologues to light.



  • 11.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 12-08-2020 02:44
    Hello everyone,

    Thank you so much for the amazing replies! I was able to purchase the Viola Spolin's Improvisations for Theater book for Kindle and have been reading it. I also will continue to look at the resources here and the other sites folks have mentioned.

    I wholeheartedly agree that anything in life is about passion. When I worked for Disney, I tended to hire people who were passionate over those who might have been the best experienced or had all the knowledge. Of course if they had both that was great, but I found that people who were passionate would continue to grow, challenge themselves and seek out the answers to questions where those who might have been more qualified or better experienced tended to rest on their laurels or not be as thoughtful or outgoing for a project. I'm hoping my passion continues to serve me well as I have lots of ideas I'd like to share with my students, as well as bring theirs to the stage.

    We just finished our recruitment day skit, and both casts did very well for elementary school student's whose native language is not English. The parents in the audience were shocked, to say the least, by having elementary school performers come up and interact with them. I feel this accomplishment alone under my belt will help continue to push me forward as I develop my career.

    Thank you all again.


    Sean Graham
    Native English Teacher and Lecturer
    The Affiliated High School at Tunghai University
    Xitun District, Taichung City

  • 12.  RE: Teaching Theater Without Formal Training

    Posted 19 days ago


    I recommend the following two Spolin books.



    Also, attend a couple workshops to gather additional ideas for theatre games and activities. Check out the one I am offering below.

    Have a great week! - Matthew 

    Looking for some new virtual or synchronous ideas for the spring semester? Join theatre educators from around the country for this 2.5 hour workshop.

    Virtual Drama Download 2.0 - Saturday, January 16, 2021 - $15 
    Come prepared to play your way through technique and performance-based activities for a variety of ages perfectly suited for the virtual or synchronous drama classroom. This engaging workshop is ideal for drama teachers looking to enter the spring semester with new activities and ideas. Educators who participated in the first Virtual Drama Download will find 2.0 just as valuable. You will have an opportunity to share an activity with the group as well.

    Register Here

    Have a great day,
    Matthew Belopavlovich
    Theatre Dept. Artistic Director
    Patel Conservatory @ Straz ​

    Matthew Belopavlovich