Last fall I had an interesting conversation with someone who was new to the arts community, but not to advocacy. “The problem with the arts community,” I was told, “is that you all aren’t angry. You put up with less, and make it work. You don’t demand what you deserve.”
Since then, I have been thinking about how we make a case for ourselves, and for our work. And I use opportunities when the work we do as a theater community is not valued to assess my talking points, and make sure they are working. Let me be clear–when I speak of the theater community, I am speaking of the ENTIRE theater community. Big, mid, small and fringe, community, college, commercial, presenting organizations, venues. Actors, playwrights, dramaturgs, designers, directors, technicians, administrators, and everyone else who participates in the creation of theater. And also, of course, the audiences. Organizations, artists, and audiences. These are the three legs of the theater community. We cannot (and should not) be required to speak with one voice. With a few exceptions.
Last week I read the article in the Boston Globe about the decision made by the Superintendent of Everett Schools, to cut the curricular drama program. There is a petition that went live today to urge him to reconsider this move. But this is also an opportunity for us all to clarify WHY a theater program is important as a part of the curriculum. We are living in a time when money and budgets are examined over and over, and where the “extras” are constantly being cut. But here’s the thing. The arts aren’t extra. They are essential.
- The American Alliance for Theatre and Education has a great page listing the effects of a theater education. It speaks to the improved test scores, higher attendance rates, and better reading comprehension for theater students.
- Theater skills are also transferable job skills. Theater students learn about collaboration, deadlines, budgets, and the need to adjust expectations and goals. There are several sites that will talk about these invaluable job skills that serve every area.
- The storytelling of theater allows people to explore the human condition. It supports empathy, understanding, and sometimes it can create change. When students devise a piece of theater, under the guidance of a trained teacher, it is a powerful opportunity for them to tell their stories, and create a dialogue in a safe place.
- The power of theater is that there is a role for everyone who wants to participate. If you are an actor, that role is clear. But there are dozens of other roles required to make theater, and every single role is important. For students looking for a place to belong, there is a place in the theater community.
- Theater (and arts) participation in school is critical if we want to have audiences for tomorrow. Theater requires a commitment of audiences–the commitment of time, of money, and of engagement. The payoff is tremendous, but it is a learned skill.
The theater community is amazing, and they fill the void in many school systems by making educational outreach part of their mission. And while that work is a gift, it is a gift not realized by every community. The community will reach out to the drama students in Everett. But that isn’t enough. By having the arts a part of the curricular education, students had access to it who wouldn’t have access to a extra-curricular activity. And those students may only take one class, but they will develop skills that are unique.
The arts are not extra. They are essential. Please sign this petition and let the Superintendent of the Everett schools know that you agree.