Importance of Theatre in the Education System
The word theatre is accompanied by a variety of negative perceptions and field only accessible by actors, experienced in this line of work. However, in taking this class and having some reluctance to the style, devised theatre is one of the most transformative modes of communication that I have ever been apart of. As many of you probably think, theatre cannot relate to you: you don’t sing, dance, act, memorize lines well, and don’t like following the commands of an omnipotent director who cannot be questioned. Again, this hesitation is a mere assumption and over generalization of the theatre field and what it has to offer, and I want to attest to the productive nature of the devised theatre process, and the enriching education I received in performing Origins, our devised performance that the Theatre Justice Workshop class of Regis University put on for family, friends, classmates, and a dwindling audience of theatre enthusiasts.
To begin, I must demonstrate the positive facets that I have learned and developed through participation in a devised theatre production. Devised theatre is unlike any other, as it is counterculture like to the perceived identity of theatre everywhere. It’s a collaboration, an improvisation, and a final transformative performance which attempts to spark more conversation and highlight conceptual ideas through a storytelling approach. Being able to collaborate on ideas, use imagination and creative writing to structure and vitalize the idea, and then turn this into a performance, with endings that provoke questions and emotions in an audience that can truly connect to what is being displayed, is a process that takes time, team work, equal effort, and research abilities that may seem askew from normal class antics. In our beginning process, we were asked to develop improvisational skills with fellow classmates that made us build a sense of community and dynamism that would later be used in creating familiar and intimate situations between the character stories we developed. In addition to this, we began theorizing about our ancestry and writing anecdotal reports of stories we remember from our family’s oral tradition.
After a few weeks of practice, and further development of stories, we began creatively writing 5 sentence stories, and introductions, to really flesh out characters, storylines, and thematic endings that correlated with values we identify with today. This ability to create details about family members we never met, and really flesh out who they were as a person by gaining and piecing together research information from family members, ancestry websites, old pictures and audio/video pieces, developed a skill of writing with purpose and creativity, and being able to access research that is inherently different to the scholarly journals of many research papers. This “digging” we did inspired conversation and developing relationships with family, with past relatives, and with ourselves and where we came from, a truly rewarding experience and enriching for those who participate, including the audience.
Yes, the point was to include the audience in this experience as much as possible, and what better way then having them on the stage and intimately sharing our stories through narrative and performance? As we transformed our creative stories to a collaborative performed play, we also developed a group dynamic much stronger than any group work I’ve ever done at Regis. And this group was able to produce something far more powerful than any PowerPoint presentation. Stories ranged from surviving the Holocaust, to racism in the south; from traveling across the border and giving up the past in hopes for a better future, to discovering values of courage, selflessness, service, and a renewed love for family and the importance of each story of every individual. This performance was powerful; but was not defined by how good or bad it was: we read off scripts, had audience members on the stage and had a few hiccups, not like any sort of traditional theatre experience. But the power of this performance I speak to, is the transformative quality it had on us as students, and the transformative effect on the audience in the stories and conversations it inspired afterwards.
Not only was this so radically different as a class and a way of learning, but because it was so for all of us, it made the experience and turmoil with this group of people even more rewarding than whether the final product was any good or not. And the conversation I personally had among my family after this performance scaled usual conversation. It sparked emotions of sadness and surprise, of awe and immense joy, and ignited the flame for people to look further into their history, their oral history, their familiar stories, and the value which we pull from these stories that change us as human beings. These stories we performed definitely promoted communication among students, faculty, and families, as well as communicated something in itself, private and worthwhile to each respective individual. Not only would I say this class is worth the time to take and enriches the educational experience so differently and positively, but I would go so far as to say all students should take this class. The purpose of this class develops you as a person in relation to your fellow classmate, and even into a certain world paradigm, and reaches out to the community in a dialogic, service-oriented way that Jesuit education facilities often promote. Regis should take the time to really look into the theatre department, realize its potentially beneficial curriculum, and develop the facilities and classes to promote a diverse education and welcoming atmosphere to students of all interests, as it should as a liberal arts college.