Democracyworks is the Educational Theatre Association's student essay competition. The program was founded in 2009 to support and grow student advocacy on behalf of theatre and other arts education. In eight years, more than 250 students have written essays focusing on topics ranging from the importance of diversity to the value of theatre education in a democratic society. Each year's winner earns a trip to Washington, D.C. to take part in National Arts Advocacy Day, where he or she reads their essay before attendees and visits Capitol Hill to meet with legislators to talk about the value of arts education.

Arts Advocacy Day, sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts, brings together arts advocates from throughout the country to meet with legislators on behalf of a wide range of arts issues, including arts education. The essay competition winner and a chaperone must be available to attend the two-day event. The winning essayist will take part in all scheduled Arts Advocacy Day events, including legislative training on current arts issues circulating on Capitol Hill; the Congressional Arts Breakfast; visits to representatives’ and senators’ offices; and the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The winning essay and a photo of the winner will be published in Dramatics. The first runner-up essayist will be awarded $150, and second runner-up $100.

2017's winner

The winner of this year’s Democracyworks essay competition is Lance Junck, a student at Branson (Missouri) High School, Troupe 3482. As the winner, Junck participated in a day of advocacy training and spent another day visiting the offices of his Congressional representatives, asking for support on a wide range of arts and arts education initiatives and legislation. More than twenty EdTA members from around the country attended the Americans for the Arts-sponsored event March 20-21.

This year’s essay topic focused on STEAM education and why it should be part of every student’s well-rounded curriculum. The inclusion of the arts—including theatre—as an important way to advance student learning in the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math, has become an important part of the discussions about education reform in the last few years. As STEAM consultant Georgette Yakman explains, “STEAM programs integrate subjects in an inquiry-based, hands-on curriculum in a way that more closely aligns with what students will experience in college and the workforce.”

Junck, who was a runner-up in last year’s Democracyworks competition, began his essay by pointing out how the history lessons in the musical Hamilton made education relevant through “thrilling, real, human characters, who speak to students on both an intellectual and personal level.” He went on to explain how theatre incorporates the STEM subjects, such as in building and designing sets. Junck also related the tale of an athlete who became involved in theatre and eventually went on to major in aeronautical engineering, with the goal of becoming a pilot. He included his own STEAM story as well: Junck played a mathematician in the play Proof and wrote “I had several conversations with my school's calculus teacher…I learned more about the way my character thinks through the discussion of theoretical mathematics than I ever did through standard acting exercises.”

Watch Junck's speech at 2017's Arts Advocacy Day below.

2016's Democracyworks winner Salwa Meghjee stated "my experience with Democracyworks changed my life. It gave me a lifelong purpose in advocacy that I would not have had otherwise.” Watch Meghjee's presentation at Arts Advocacy Day 2016 below.