The Power of Theatre: Why Drama Belongs in the School Curriculum
Since early man, society has depended on storytelling. Storytellers were valued over warriors because they were the centre of their society. They related the events from daily life and kept the group living in harmony by introducing morals and lessons and providing entertainment. This is where theatre began, in the power of the spoken word. Sadly, much knowledge was lost with no written records, and can only be suggested from images found at ancient sites such as the rocks of Alta, Norway. This was before written language developed in Mesopotamia 3200 BC, but written communication would change everything. In around 600 BC a theatre, meaning ‘seeing place’ in ancient Greek, was built. The Theatre of Dionysus produced the first play and housed Thespis, the first actor to perform as a character not narrator. In his honour actors are often referred to as Thespians. This new art form proved so popular that new theatres were created across Greece and soon spread across the world. Each culture developed their own styles, sometimes including dance or song, but always as a form of entertainment. Today the popularity of theatre remains. London's West End saw a total box office revenue of almost 893 million pounds in 2022 and Broadway took 845 million dollars. Theatre is a part of daily life. Each night billions get home from work to turn on their televisions and watch the technologically provided theatre available to them with just a click of a button. They immerse themselves in programmes or films, before discussing with colleagues if they saw the latest instalment and what they think will happen next. Even after centuries storytelling still has a power which pulls human beings in and makes them curious and excited. But why? What is it about theatre that draws us to it? All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts. - William Shakespeare As Shakespeare wrote, a journey through life is like a stage performance. In turn we can then assume that theatre is like life. We see in the characters reflections of our own lives; perhaps opportunities to imagine a different situation for ourselves, or a reason to be grateful for what we have. Perhaps the original meaning of the word theatre is right. It is a seeing place. Somewhere that humans can see alternative lives which can help us explore and understand the society we live in. Theatre and acting form a reflective process, developing the mind and the soul and teaching the performer not just about the character, but about themselves too. Acting is not about being someone different. It's finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there. - Meryl Streep One of the major benefits of acting is development of transferable skills which can be used in any career. By stepping out on stage an actor develops confidence, resilience, and the ability to quickly adapt if something goes wrong. They learn to communicate through body language and clear speech and read the reactions of the audience to tailor their performance, a skill so often needed as part of giving presentations. Strong teamwork, motivation and social skills develop through working as part of a cast to achieve a common goal. Creativity thrives through exploration and improvisation. The positive effect this has on wellbeing and self-esteem is well recognised, with little wonder considering its place in early human evolution. Storytelling is almost a part of human DNA. Despite these positives, Drama has been ranked to have a ‘lesser status’ within the UK educational curriculum and is not regarded as a required subject. Knowledge-based learning has become the focus of this government and Drama does not align with their educational reforms. We face a world in which young people must achieve targets and pass assessments. The very core creative elements from human development are excluded from education and seen as irrelevant. Shakespeare is still a key part of the curriculum, but only as something to evaluate within an English lesson. Shakespeare wrote it to be a form of entertainment. Who knows what he would think of his works being a language analysis... It is little wonder so many young people despise Shakespeare when the key purpose of entertainment has been lost. Will this develop a stronger society? Will drama ensue in daily life as people rebel against a system so set on targets, development of the soul and social skills are ranked as ‘lesser’?