Socially Responsible Practices of Theatre Education: Sign Three

Journal Entry from October 20, 2014 for Theatre Methods

 What is…

At this point I have a decade of experience under my belt in youth theatre. I have a firm grasp on “what is” in my program. This grasp has been continually transforming over the years and has certainly shifted from a more idealistic to a more realistic perspective on what is possible and achievable. Some of the most cumbersome constraints include administrative oversight and school policy, student interests, and limited instructional time.

In my class, as I often describe, I try to create an atmosphere of respect. One benefit of this is that it serves as a backbone for socially responsible actions. We, society, must respect the identities of the people we interact with. We, each individual, must also respect our own history and identity. Too often in theatre, we take licenses to transgress boundaries that are present in society. Sometimes it is very appropriate; it can provoke discussions that allow society to progress. Sometimes, in middle school, the students are not ready to take on those discussions; to cast Romeo and Juliet with two boys, for example, may provoke content that students are not comfortable discussing.


Lazarus (2012) highlights the need for socially responsible theatre; that is, theatre that lives in the world outside of the classroom. Theatre cannot remain in a sterile environment. It must be connected to the community. It must be connected to the ideas that each student brings to the play. The voices in my classroom are multi-faceted (H1).

What is in my program are the following attributes:

  • A student centered teaching practice that is focused on student voice
  • A curriculum progression that starts students at 6th grade standards and takes them to 10th grade standards in three years.
  • An annual student authored play festival where students direct, act, and manage almost every element of the production.
  • A curriculum that focuses on a toolbox of acting choices so that students can find techniques that work for their style of acting
  • The inclusion of world-theatre styles (from an informational standpoint)
  • The practice of Shakespeare (in the eighth grade)
  • The integration of one visiting guest artist for playwriting from a regional theatre company
  • A progressive casting policy that emphasizes color and gender blind casting, when it is culturally and socially appropriate (yet embraces student preferences for playing one type of character over another)

My program represents the students in my school because it involves every student in my school. Over the course of three years each student is involved in three play festival productions (or more), writes one play, helps to design the plays, and learns a broad variety of acting techniques. Students continually give feedback to their peers and self-evaluate on their progress. Their voices are continually integrated into their academic experiences.

Regarding the teachers in my school, I seek out inter-disciplinary practices. When I teach Shakespeare the English class also reads Shakespeare. It is a teaching partnership that has academic rewards in both classes because the two approaches to the same content enhances the learning of every student. I have a fond project, teaching puppet theatre that is integrated into the art class. Students build puppet figures in art class and bring them to the theatre program for additional curriculum. Teachers in my school are highly supportive of inter-disciplinary work and see the benefits of it with each student across the board.

What could be…

What is missing from my program is a long list of what could be. Some of the things on my wish list, most of which have not happened due to limitations on my teaching are:

  • The study and practice of different world-theatre styles
  • The integration of the broader theatre community
  • An academic progression that allows student voice in selecting the material they work on
  • The integration of theatre performance that is outside of the western comfort zone
  • A higher level of script analysis that embraces the critical eye of the student by examining the complex details of a script

I believe that these things are missing from my program. However, I am also happy with the way my program is now. After ten years, I have tried many things in an attempt to include as many students as possible and integrate the broader world. I come from a perspective that embraces the community through theatre. I see theatre as a mirror for what could be and what is in the world.

What ought to be…

I am uncertain about what ought to be. I agree with Lazarus (2012) that theatre education should be socially active. However, when I look at my list of what could be, I find myself looking for the time and money to integrate these changes. Like many things, when examining change, the answer is not always obvious.

Another obstacle to integrating some of the items on the above list are my own abilities as a teacher. The adage “teach what you know” is something that has always guided me true. There are world-theatre styles that I would love to teach but lack the information to properly transmit them. For example, I am highly interested in Kabuki. Yet, I would not know where to start if I were to teach it. I also do not want to appropriate a cultural identity that I am not entitled to.

While I think about what could be, I must remember the limitations of middle school theatre. I must also remember that if I create a classroom that captures student interest, they will continue to study and will eventually have the opportunity to take on the content that I cannot include.


Lazarus, J. (2012). Signs of Change New Directions in Theatre Education: Revised and Amplified Edition. Bristol: Intellect.

Author: David Orace Kelly

International Teacher - Arts and Education Leader

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