How Do I Make My Theater Program Successful?
High-quality theater training at the elementary, middle, and high school levels can give students the tools to express themselves with confidence; work together cooperatively; and develop their skills in abstract thinking, text analysis, and literary interpretation. To accomplish these goals, they need a safe, comfortable learning environment, high-quality instructors and materials, clear goals, and ongoing program evaluation. Below, you’ll find a more thorough discussion of the elements of a quality theater program.
A Quality Theater Program Requires
A performance space. Whether a class takes place in a regular classroom, a gymnasium, or an auditorium, it is important that there be a clean, open performance area. Classroom instruction and presentation should include a defined playing space and a specific seating area for the audience when applicable. Most often this simply means clearing the desks and other furniture to the sides of the room. For a formal production, the ideal space will include a dedicated theater complete with working stage lights, drapes, and sound system. Performances may also take place in a gym or auditorium, where a quality sound system will support successful productions. Seating must allow all members of the audience to clearly view the performers. Large-scale productions also often require:
- Additional technical support, including up-to-date lighting and sound equipment
- A box office and lobby
- Dressing room
- High-quality texts, supplies, and equipment. A well-rounded theater program, focusing on both process and performance, includes the following:
- Scripts and theatrical texts. Teachers need access to appropriate resources for scripts and other theater-related texts. Securing performance rights can be a complex, time-consuming, and expensive process.
- Costumes. Whether from a simple costume box at the early elementary level or a full costume shop in the later high school years, access to a selection of costumes will help students make the most of the characters they create.
- Makeup and masks. These are important transformational tools that can help young performers as they learn to create and sustain characters.
- Sets. These can range from a simple open classroom area with a few chairs or cubes at the early elementary level to a full stage set at later high school levels. To build and decorate complete sets, schools need a variety of supplies on hand, including tools, basic furniture, and paint. These sets should be enhanced with appropriate lighting and sound equipment.
- The ideal theater program will include storage space for all of the above so that programs can build their resources over time.
- A qualified theater teacher or teaching artist. Qualified, well-trained instructors are the backbone of any successful theater program. Illinois State Certification with a Drama/Theatre Endorsement is preferred. Teachers who have college-level training equivalent to a Bachelor of Arts in Theater will have the most comprehensive content knowledge and experience. When generalist teachers are delivering theater instruction, they can benefit from ongoing professional development focused on theater arts. Many programs rely on the combined efforts of a classroom teacher and one or more visiting teaching artists. The most effective partnerships allow the classroom teacher and visiting artists to plan and collaborate together outside the weekly teaching session.
- Dedicated, consistent class periods. For optimal results at the elementary and middle school levels, theater instruction should occur at least once per week during each marking period. At the high school level, one session per day is recommended.
- Clearly defined goals. At all levels of theater training, students should participate in both the performance and production aspects of theater making. At each grade level, final presentations, performances, or exhibitions must demonstrate the stated learning goals. For example, the final presentation of a playwriting program should focus specifically on demonstrating students’ writing skills rather than their performance skills.
- Connection to the Chicago Theater Community. Chicago is home to an internationally lauded theater scene. Quality theater training programs can capitalize on this richness by seeking out and scheduling ongoing field trips as well as classroom visits from professional theater artists working in the community. They should also provide students with information on how to access theater opportunities beyond the classroom.
- Ongoing evaluation and accountability. Theater education requires multiple forms of assessment, and learning should be assessed at each stage of the theater process. Effective tools may include both qualitative and quantitative forms of assessment: portfolios, performances, rubrics, self-assessment, written response, interviews, observations, journals, and tests.
- Funding and support from the school and the community. While some schools commit significant resources for their theater programs, many depend on substantial help from outside funding sources. Teachers often take on the responsibility of writing grants, and many parents’ organizations are involved in other areas of fundraising.
- It is best to develop a budget and fundraising plan that draws upon multiple sources. Theater production can be an expensive endeavor from the securing of rights to a production to designing and producing sets and costumes. The revenue from school productions can be a support but cannot solely fund theater programs.