Given an ailing economy and the ever-increasing cost of entertainment, it can sometimes be difficult to justify to yourself spending money on events rather than groceries. This is especially true when deciding whether or not to bring your family to the movies or to a sporting event, during which there is no guarantee of the quality of entertainment. The movie could be a dud. The sporting event could be a blowout. The theater, however, at the very least, guarantees content, if not quality and execution. There is an educational element to theater that ensures that, even if the production is not executed to the capacity of its potential, it was worth watching. Of course, worth is in the eye of the beholder, but in an entertainment world where the most recent movies are typically the only ones offered in the theater, there are some theater standards which all but guarantee an evening of enjoyment and education.
THEATER FUNDING CUTS
In 2009, Michigan Theater awaited $42,000 from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs to help fund their productions and activities. After the money had already been promised to them and built into their budget, it was pulled out from under them, forcing them to cut programs to deal with the crisis. This is just one example of hundreds if not thousands around the world. Governments, dealing with a worldwide economic recession, much like the people they were elected to represent, simply do not have the same amount of money for entertainment as they used to. Like private citizens, governments have bills to pay before they can pay for recreation, and so theaters have been forced to deal with less money, producing less expensive productions and cutting productions and programs entirely.
WHY IS THEATER EDUCATION IMPORTANT
As school districts are forced to deal with less money coming from state and federal government, they are being forced to account for the ways in which they allocate their money. Often, the first extracurricular programs to be cut are those which do not bring much money into the school, meaning the arts. It is the general consensus of school boards and administrations that arts education is not essential education. Still there are many who, while aware that it may not be as essential as core curricula, vehemently disagree with the idea that it is less essential than any other recreational activity.
There are two questions which must be asked of an educational program to determine quality. First, does the program teach the history and importance of the subject matter? Second, does the program teach the students anything about themselves? The fact is, as much as one single academic subject may be of importance to any one person, much of what students learn in school is forgotten in adulthood. Thus, it is of equal importance that an academic program teaches students something about themselves. For example, while a student might not always remember the quadratic formula, they may learn that they have the perseverance and intelligence to do something which is difficult to understand.
Theater teaches as much about the history and cultural significance of the performance arts as it does about the students participating therein. As much as the works of Shakespeare, Beckett, and Albee are taught to students in theater programs, they are simultaneously taught life lessons which may stay with them far longer than “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” In order to bring life and realism to a character, students are forced, often without knowing they are doing it, to study their own emotions as well as have compassion for the emotions of others. Without this compassion there cannot be understanding, and without understanding there is little hope that the student will be able to relay any emotion that is not his or her own. Confidence and self-esteem is built as students pour their individuality, their heart and soul, into a performance, and are literally applauded for their efforts. At the end of the day, theater education is important because students leave the program not only more knowledgeable students, but better people, than when they began.
It has long been said that American theater is dead. The trouble is, in this particular instance, words have very little power. While it may be true that certain movements in theater might be dormant, there is and always will be a call for theater. One of the reasons people might think theater is dead is because the type of theater receiving the most press is the Broadway musical. Given the fact that Broadway is located in one corner of the country, and that few other theaters can afford to produce these kinds of productions, people often think there is nothing else, and therefore, excluding New York City residents, theater is dead.
Community theater, however, has remained a staple of many communities across the globe, and these theater programs provide many benefits to their communities. Perhaps first among these benefits is the educational aspect. Community theater has the ability to expose its people to styles and methods of theater to which it may not be accustomed. Furthermore, community theater provides (usually) family-friendly entertainment. It can also be a cohesive element to an increasingly fractured community.
There are three main ways to help spread and maintain community theater.
First, participate! Community theater programs are usually on the lookout for actors, directors, lighting technicians, musicians, music directors, hair and makeup artists, etc. to improve their productions.
Second, publicize! While the participants of a community theater production will usually spend their own time publicizing their productions, they will always be willing to allow someone to spread the word further. Handing out posters, spreading information online through social media, and writing press releases all help increase attendance and therefore maintain an important part of any community.
Finally, donate and fundraise! If there is one thing for which community theaters are usually on the lookout, it is money. Though most of the time participants in community theater programs are volunteers, materials, rent or upkeep, and materials all cost money, and it is up to the community, through local government and private funding, to pay these bills.