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acting classes in a small school - might need a re-boot

  • 1.  acting classes in a small school - might need a re-boot

    Posted 07-29-2019 21:51
    I teach in a small school and need help attracting students to my acting classes, so maybe I need to re-think them. I would love some ideas!

    I teach theater at a small private high school in California, and we've been around for only 3 years. We have 150 students. I direct two shows a year, with cast sizes from 10-20.

    We have an alternative block schedule which means that we have 3 90-minute classes each day. This also means that due to scheduling, only half of the student body can take the class in the Fall term, and the other half of the student body can take it in the Spring term.

    SO, this means that in order to make the classes available to all students, I have to offer the same sequence twice (once each term). What I do now is teach Improv for the first 5 weeks, and then Acting for the next 10 weeks. I offer this in the Fall term, and in the Spring term. But I'm wondering if I'm not thinking through this in as flexible way that I can.

    My problem is that I only get 6-10 students to sign up in each term, whereas the Visual Arts class gets about 18 students each term. The head of my school is starting to think that the acting classes aren't very useful, and he's cutting them and having me teach more in the English department instead. But I really want to develop a robust theater program at the school, train future actors, start a one-act plays fest, and make the Improv and Acting sequence a core part of what we do at the school. I think they're invaluable classes!

    My other theater class is for advanced theater students, called Advanced Playwriting, Acting, and Directing. Also getting small enrollment; also getting cut. The really popular classes are the ones that get English credit! I teach Contemporary US Theater and Shakespeare.

    How can I reinvigorate my theater classes? How can I attract more students? I'm also wondering if I'm stuck in this idea of "must repeat the same classes each term" thing.

    Thank you for any ideas!

    Arden Thomas
    Sequoyah High School
    Pasadena CA

  • 2.  RE: acting classes in a small school - might need a re-boot

    Posted 07-30-2019 08:08
    I also teach at a small private school with similar circumstances. This year, I took a step sideways and reframed the "acting" class as a general theatre arts class in which students will learn all the aspects of theatre (just like public school curriculum) rather than just acting. Enrollment went from 6 to 16. In a school that size, what are the chances that many of them have a real interest in becoming actors? Not many. If you consider making the intro level more inclusive for people with all kinds of interests, maybe you'll snag a few more students who might be intimidated by the idea of an acting only class. You can possibly add the acting-intensive class again later when your theatre arts class fills up.

    Also, our school requires an arts credit, does yours? Granted, most students take visual arts classes because they're "easier," but since theatre arts also fills that requirement, it does help us get a few more students we wouldn't have otherwise. Another thing that helped was dropping down and teaching theatre in middle school. We're a K-12 school, so our MS students funnel into the HS. We've gained a few more students who go from 8th grade drama class right into the HS theatre arts section. We've had a lot of interest and support in the MS, so if that's an option, I highly recommend it!

    Good luck - building and sustaining a program when students' interests are divided and primarily driven by their parents' preferences is quite difficult!

    Maralie Medlin
    Director of Fine Arts
    Gaston Christian School
    Gastonia, NC

  • 3.  RE: acting classes in a small school - might need a re-boot

    Posted 07-30-2019 10:20
    I use that 1st class as a survey course. That way I'm able to attract kids who aren't intrested in acting, but are OK taking a fine arts course. We cover jobs/chain-of-command in theater, the history of theater, improv, we read a play or 2, puppetry, pantomime, and more. In that makes the class less threatening for a first class. I am often able to "hook" them from that course, and then filter them into the advanced acting and/or tech classes, depending on their personal interests.

    Beth Keith
    Theatre Teacher
    Harrisonville High School
    Grandview MO

  • 4.  RE: acting classes in a small school - might need a re-boot

    Posted 07-30-2019 12:01
    I'm not a teacher, but I'm going to pop in here for a moment and say that I agree with the two comments so far.

    Not everyone wants to be an actor, or even to act. But unfortunately a lot of people -- kids and adults -- seem to think that theatre is all about acting. For one thing, we hear about TV and movie actors all the time; they're in the news, online, in tabloids, and so on and on. But we rarely hear about everyone else in the industry: the directors, producers, designers, writers, and all the other people who stay in the background but make it all possible. None of those people are household names, but they're involved in a career that they (mostly) love and that provides for them and their families.

    Back when I was in high school, we didn't have acting classes -- or theatre classes, for that matter. I, and many of my friends, wouldn't have taken an acting class, but we would have considered some kind of an intro to theatre class or a tech class as an elective.

    George F. Ledo
    Set designer

  • 5.  RE: acting classes in a small school - might need a re-boot

    Posted 07-31-2019 08:33
    While my school is much larger, I also have faced challenges in enrollment but mainly because parents and counselors are encouraging more academic electives and AP courses to build up their transcripts.  We are also on a rotating block schedule (ours are 60 minutes).  Both of my Theatre I courses are in the fall, Theatre II and Theatre Studio (production course) are in the spring.  Theatre I is an introductory course where I offer a sampling of theatre but it is mostly performance-based.  Theatre II is an advanced acting course but we do scene study as well.  Theatre Studio is a 45-50 minute class production.  This format has worked for us quite well.  I do not see a need to offer the same course both semesters. Theatre I and II are open to grades 9-12 and Theatre Studio grades 10-12.  If they are unable to take a course that year they try to schedule it the next.  After moving to this format my Theatre I classes grew from 10-12 to 20-25 each.  We also have an arts requirement which helps but the class has the reputation of being fun so it encourages enrollment.  I save the serious work for my advanced classes.  Many love the intro class and sign-up again. I'm happy to share my units if you are interested.  Best of luck!

    Laura Russo
    Teacher/Director of Theatre Arts
    School District of The Chathams
    Chatham NJ

  • 6.  RE: acting classes in a small school - might need a re-boot

    Posted 07-31-2019 11:14
    I also teach in a small independent school. I began our theatre program here in the Upper School 18 years ago and then began our Middle School program 13 years ago. I agree with the above comments. Consider offering a Theatre Arts class, allowing students to study all aspects of the theatre and/or tv/film. The 90 minute classes are a blessing for projects and possible in class performances. Possibly offer the Theatre Arts class both semesters and the acting class in Spring, with TA as a prerequisite. I have tons of ideas for smaller units and semester classes if you want to "discuss" it more feel free to email me at
    Break a leg!

    Tina Tutt
    Middle School Theatre Teacher
    Middle School Theatre Director
    Battle Ground Academy
    Franklin, TN

  • 7.  RE: acting classes in a small school - might need a re-boot

    Posted 08-03-2019 16:44
    Thank you for all the responses and the ones sent to me personally! I really appreciate it. I love the idea of a Theater Arts class; I think I'll offer that in the first 5 weeks, with the second 10 weeks as an acting class.

    Arden Thomas
    Sequoyah High School
    Pasadena CA