The Therapeutic and Transformative Nature of Theater
by Sarah MacDonald, Elementary and Secondary Drama teacher
This year I have been reminded, both personally and professionally, of the transformative nature of theater. After the Elementary play, a student confided in me that he had "found a new type of happiness in drama". He told me he "wasn't afraid anymore". Being an observer of his personal journey, I had to agree. His transformation was clear as it was with a number of other children who set themselves personal goals at the start of rehearsals. Having been inspired by an article I read in What's On Stage in which the writer advocates for and acknowledges the importance of letting children take the reigns, I decided to relinquish directorial control of the Elementary play and become a facilitator of their theatrical experience. A line from the article reads:
When children are allowed to be theatremakers [...] they're empowered in a totally different way. They're given licence to create; a process in which they examine themselves and their world and a platform on which to express themselves. (Matt Trueman, Feb 2018)
The students chose, directed and wrote scenes in the play and I admit, being able to step back and let the children take control was a personal challenge but also extremely liberating. Watching each student grow with confidence, creativity and enthusiasm was the best learning experience I could have wished for them and for me.
Having gone through the process of acting in a musical and play myself this year, I also experienced the social and emotional changes and benefits of immersing myself in theater again. The friendships, the challenges, the introspection one has to do in order to understand a character's intentions and purpose. Theater really does have the power to change our view of the world and our place in it.
Augusto Boal (a Brazilian theatre practitioner and political activist) said "Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future rather than just waiting for it." This year students at YIS have had the opportunity to experience just how theater can transform lives. Grade 5 students explored how Forum Theatre can be used to solve their own personal and social issues by "playing out" a number of solutions before actively making decisions in the reality of their world. Grade 6 students embarked on the power of story and connection through Reminiscence Theatre with a direct link to a local seniors home.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that drama and theater is not just about the product - the final performance under the bright lights. Rather, it is about the process - the therapeutic transformative nature of the theatrical experience. The connections one makes along the way with others and with themselves, the developed confidence, the ability to take risks, the creativity and the social implications, all help us to grow as individuals and become better human beings.