Open Forum

  • 1.  Breaking the Stigma

    Posted 09-27-2021 12:12
    As I'm sure many of you have or are currently dealing with, I am facing a problem with student participation especially in the male department.  Our school has a negative stigma on "theatre kids," and it is really putting a damper on our numbers.  We used to have athletes to audition, and now if you are an athlete you can't audition for a show because it's not the "popular" thing to do.  I had my students fill out a quick survey and 98% of them said that being in a play or musical isn't the cool thing to do.  I would love to get feedback from my fellow educators.  How do I go about fixing this?

    Erica Davidson
    Theatre Teacher
    University School of Jackson

  • 2.  RE: Breaking the Stigma

    Posted 09-28-2021 09:43
         I have been fighting for a solution for over 35 years and really don't have a clear one to offer. I have a membership of over 100 students, but only ten of them are male. I tried the, "Where do you think the Leonardo DeCaprio's or Tom Hiddleston's of the world came from? They were involved in high school theatre." I would love to think that would have worked, but they just aren't interested. Theatre attracts a "type" and I was one of them....looking for a way to fit in, needing attention, but not wanting to go about it in a bad way because I was a preacher's kid, etc. I long to do West Side Story, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, let alone Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but it's never been possible because of the lack of males in the department. You can say all you want about "gender-blindness" but most musicals are out of range for the female voice to pull off most male musical songs, and society is still not accepting of the switch, especially in the South, where I teach. One coach at a previous school had a speech to his football players, after learning one of his players had dropped out of the season to be on stage, in which he told them, "Theatre is for gays." Not a fabrication except for his offensive slur I left out. Choir here faces the same dilemma and only has six boys in two different choir classes.
         The best solution has always been for me to appeal to the kids in the program to go out and recruit their male friends...especially if it's a show they want to really do. I hear of "unicorns" out programs where there are more boys than girls, but I have as yet to see one. I have five more years before I retire and would love to see a swing in this direction. Not holding my breath.

    Bruce Taws
    Mosley Drama Director

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  • 3.  RE: Breaking the Stigma

    Posted 09-28-2021 13:10
    Years ago at the ITS conference, I met a guy (from Hawaii?) whose program had plenty of guys and program support. One year, their school got a new football coach. At some point he made a remark like the one you recorded above...and the entire football team walked off the field! He had to go, hat in hand, to the theatre teacher to apologize and ask for support getting his team back!
    ...we can all dream.......

    I also heard tell of a plan that worked, by direct approach to the team captains, offering them a guaranteed A if they signed up for the class and were in the plays. They didn't have to do any work at all, only come to the rehearsals/shows. Of course, those who took him up on it discovered something worthwhile, and they soon told their friends, who now populate that program with plenty of guys (and, I suspect, they now participate fully).

    Douglas "Chip" Rome
    Theatre Consultant
    Educational Stages
    Burke VA

  • 4.  RE: Breaking the Stigma

    Posted 09-29-2021 05:26
    I had one of those programs who for many years had more boys than girls. My guess is that I only rarely do musicals. Boys are attracted to comedies when they first start out, then I can gradually move them toward drama. There are many big cast plays out there, well written crowd pleasers. Some boys view the musicals as too much of a stretch. It takes a lot of courage to sing and dance in public, and a lot of boys are just not ready when they are young. I also found classes heavy on improv helped recruit them, too. 
    I'm back to a more balanced cast now, with more girls than boys, but just barely, but the institutional memory that boys do theatre remains.

  • 5.  RE: Breaking the Stigma

    Posted 09-28-2021 11:00
    I hate that!  Like so many others, I have had to deal with that.  This is what I say:

    Start with Eddie George.  Eddie George was a Heisman Trophy winning running back from Ohio State who spent nine years in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans. He now coaches Tennessee State University.  Eddie George also STARRED ON BROADWAY AS BILLY FLYNN iIN THE MUSICAL CHICAGO.  (

    Then you could hit them with Vince Carter who played basketball at the University of North Carolina and played twenty-two years in the NBA.  "Vince, whose stepdad, Harry Robinson, was the high school band director, picked up the sax. He loved it so much, he moved on to the trumpet and various percussion instruments as well. During his senior year at Mainland High, Carter was even the drum major for the marching band.May 7, 2007"

    JHS football team takes ballet:
    Why Professional Athletes Take Ballet--

    Finally, Jake Rudock played QB for his high school, St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, which has won multiple state and mythical national championships.  Rudock asked his high school's theatre director, me, to be in a play since Austin Barron, the center on the school's football team had been in a play and was going to be in another. RUDOCK SPENT FIVE SEASONS IN THE NFL. Both Rudock and Barron played for legendary football coach George Smith, a member of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.  Smith himself had a walk-on role with a few lines in the school musical (South Pacific) under my direction.  Smith has had multiple players go on to careers in the NFL including James White (New England Patriots), Giovanni Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Hall of Famer Michael Irvin Dallas Cowboys).  To this day he calls me "Coach".

    Real Men participate in the Arts.

    Jerry Seeger
    Director of Theatre
    The Sagemont School

  • 6.  RE: Breaking the Stigma

    Posted 09-28-2021 11:01
    I'm finding this to be a VERY tough topic.  I'm having the same issue, and the girls in my group are struggling with it.  I have one or two boys- and they are struggling too.  They have all kinds of ideas to entice boys to join that, in my heart, I know won't work.  My gut tells me this is a problem that is larger than my little school.  I believe that in the towns where this is happening- it is a cultural attitude that is not going to be solved with a quick fix.  In the schools/ towns where it is not a problem- I believe they may be enjoying the benefits of a long history of a different cultural attitude towards theater- and specifically- boy's involvement in theater.  Someone in those communities did the good/ hard work of making it safe and acceptable.  For me and my program- right now- I am choosing to make this a teachable moment about character building.  My kids are so wrapped up in the story that this is a "rejection"- they aren't "cool".  That their place on the school's social ladder is determined by how many boys they can get to do a show (I get it- they are teenagers- this is high school- it is real... AND...)  I am working on getting them to take control of that narrative and rewrite it for themselves- to stop begging for boys.  Just stop.  I vow to find high quality shows that we can do with the students that we have in our program, and our "victory" will be putting on AMAZING shows- with or without boys.  And if boys show up- cool- we will welcome them and use them appropriately.  And if they don't- we will survive.  I am not going to allow my girls to perpetuate the story that they cannot  be great without the approval of the boys- at least not without a fight.
    Maybe I am making this into something that it isn't... but I believe I can turn this moment around and empower my girls to be the BOSS's that they are, and just do amazing work, with or without boys.  End rant.

    Michael Limone

  • 7.  RE: Breaking the Stigma

    Posted 09-28-2021 11:40
    Hi Erica,

    We all feel your pain! I find recruitment of guys really is linked to recruitment of all. When I took over the program a while back, it was just as you describe it--just theatre kids doing their thing separate from everyone else. Together with the adult volunteers and students, we set a goal to have over 10% of the high school student body involved in the theatre program in some way. That's more than the football team roster! This included actors, musicians, crew, technical, music business, publicity, merchandising, and more. We not only expanded the traditional student roles, but also started a youth mentorship program. We found that students lost their view of "cool" arts around the middle school years. So, we worked to create an elementary and middle school camp, we strengthened the consistency of the middle school theatre arts program, we raised the acknowledgement of theatre arts through ITS, and we talked about the accomplishments of productions and theatre arts kids constantly. I spend a lot of time sharing stats with school administrators about the success of our students (% of student body, strength of academics, community service hours, award achievements, etc), and they in turn incorporate it into public addresses for the community like school board meetings, opening ceremonies, and graduation. We participate in school district pride days, the homecoming parade, minithon talent shows, and everything we possibly can to show the full view of our presence in the community We changed the narrative about how we talk about theatre arts, and it made a big difference for us.

    Hope these ideas help, but please feel free to reach out if you'd like to chat more.

    Jasmine Bucher
    Musical Director
    Palmyra Area High School
    Palmyra Area High School

  • 8.  RE: Breaking the Stigma

    Posted 09-28-2021 15:43
    The students will be your best recruiters, or at least they have been in my experience. I "lucked" into several years' worth of having at least one talented female ingenue in my program who was also a relationship magnet, and guys would join my program to be near them - then found they liked theater and stuck around even after the relationship ended. One girl was so successful at this type of recruitment that we now refer to the process as "Kendalling" guys into the theater program.

    (It doesn't have to be romance either - friends want to be with friends.)

    They love it even if it's not 'popular,' right? Tell them to share the love.

    Idealistic, unrealistic, pie in the sky, after school special talk. Yes. It's not that easy. It's hard to always be the person who has a fun, engaging, appealing program even when you don't, to make people want to be there. To be that acting teacher, we need to be actors ourselves. It's exhausting. But I have a file folder full of letters, and thank-you gifts from years of students on my bookshelves, that remind me it's worth it.

    Josh Kauffman
    Teacher, Thespian Society/Drama Club sponsor
    Winfield City Schools
    Winfield, AL

  • 9.  RE: Breaking the Stigma

    Posted 09-29-2021 07:32
    I have seen a shift away from this in our district in the past five years and I believe it's happening because kids are getting involved in Theatre at a much younger age when the stigma just isn't there.  We offer Theatre as a special to 4th and 5th graders as well as a 5th grade musical and also have a Youth Theatre company in town that has been very successful.  Once these kids are hooked young they stick with it.  Because of this, my male numbers have increased which encourages more males to join.  This year I had two football players QUIT the team to audition for our fall production of Sense and Sensibility!  I anticipate a few more for the musical.  We will not have enough to do West Side Story but can now to do most shows.  I know that doesn't offer you much help now but if there is a way to advocate for programs in elementary grades I think that is the key.

    Laura Russo
    Teacher/Director of Theatre Arts
    Chatham High School

  • 10.  RE: Breaking the Stigma

    Posted 09-29-2021 08:08

    I know this problem well as I spent a decade as a middle school theatre teacher and started from scratch so I had to recruit all my students. For a year or two our ratio of girls to boys was 10:1.  I received a piece of advice from a colleague at another middle school ('Improve your production values... Good tech will hook some boys into backstage work, and from there they will go onstage,') followed it, and ended up with a 3:1 ration for the rest of the time I was at the school.  

    However, I think it's time for a bigger conversation here- and Laura Russo's response gets to the heart of it.  If theatre is expanded to the elementary grades, much of the stigma disappears because kids grow up with the art form, and it is 'just what they do.'  I am an elementary drama teacher.  By the time my students get to middle school and high school, they are surprised if boys are NOT participating in theatre and other arts classes.  

    Elementary school isn't just the domain for music and visual arts. We need to change this. 

    Suzanne Katz