If you are reading this blog it is probably a safe assumption that you are a fan of musical theatre. And who could blame you? Musicals are fun, entertaining and thrilling experiences for both the participants and the audience. But with school budgets stretched to their breaking point, and fears that American students are falling behind in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), educators are often told that there just aren’t enough resources to support theatre in the schools.
Fortunately, this marginalization of the arts has been met with strong resistance by those that understand that musical theatre (and arts in general) are not “just” fun; they also have very real and measurable educational benefits. Time and again, we see that students who participate in the arts have better results in their other classes as well. This observation has been a driving force for the movement to refocus on the arts in school, changing STEM to STEAM.
In this three-part series, Eleanore Speert takes a closer look at the benefits for students of musical theatre and the educators that are observing it firsthand. Eleanore Speert is the president of Speert Publishing, the Buyer for The Drama Book Shop and has been working exclusively in theater publishing for over thirty years.
Part 1: Musicals Boost Confidence
How often do we find ourselves telling others about the first musical we did in school? You know you do. We remember the lyrics of the songs we sang and we have great stories about the things we nailed on stage and the teachers we adored. We smile when we relate these stories and we always remember how good we felt, and how new that feeling may have been. It reminds us that so much of what we learn in a musical, as a student in school or in our community theater, triggers a new self-assurance and pride in what we can accomplish.
Positive change in how students relate to the world around them is one of the great benefits of participating in a musical production. Seeing students blossom after working on a musical is a well known experience to teachers in our school systems. In talking with teachers, I hear over and over how after weeks of rehearsal, study and performance, t
he greatest result of the experience is the confidence gained by their students.
One such teacher is Ann Steinhauser, a retired Therapeutic Teacher in the Amherst, Massachusetts, school system. She is also an actor with the Amherst Leisure Series Community Theater. She recounted how her students would blossom, gain confidence and find their natural curiosity after being in a musical production: “If a student doesn’t excel in any subject, and then works on the stage production of a show, they learn how to work within a shared experience and then realize they can go on to excel in something else – whatever that may be. It’s a sense of success and it broadens their world.” When the community theater produced Oliver!, the young people in the show saw how their individual work affected the whole of the production. This translated into greater self assurance that they could achieve more than they previously thought, and Ann saw a jump in leadership skills, confidence and poise.
Bob Frisch, the former Drama Instructor and Musical Theater Director at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, used show business standards in each show in order to prepare his students for the profession. He brought in professional artisans, such as Broadway show apprentices in set design and costume, to work with his students. What became paramount to the students’ success was the discipline involved when professional standards were applied. Students responded to the idea that they must show up or they would not be included, that they must respect others working on the show with them or they would not be afforded the same respect. This stimulated a “…carrot and stick philosophy. If a student does well, it is an ego and confidence builder. If a student interferes with the process, a teacher may interfere and challenge them to do better – or they are out, really. They must have respect for each other.” The discipline of professional standards led to confidence that the students were worthy of the same respect they learned to give.
Bob says one of the best things about working with musical theater is the confidence it gives his students to take risks. He’s talking about the confidence they need to raise a hand in class, to choose topics for essays, and to know when to let others lead when it’s not your turn. His observation is that confidence gained by contributing to a production leads to more effective choices and to better collaboration and social skills.
Individual contribution, and the shared experience of working on a musical, builds confidence in all who participate. Yet confidence building is only one of the positive factors gained from the experience. In later blogs, I’ll look at how musicals enhance learning and how they help build a sense of community.
Follow Tams-Witmark on Facebook or Twitter for upcoming posts from Eleanore Speert on the Benefits of Musical Theatre. The next installment will look at how musicals help build and strengthen local communities.