This past week I had the opportunity to attend Regional Thespian Competition and to give feed back to all of the tech entries of aspiring young theatre artists. Most of the students attending Regional Thespian Competition enter acting and musical theatre pieces for the competition. Well.. I guess, technically the high scores qualify for State Show Case auditions. What we all truly want for the students is an enjoyable learning experience, a chance to learn and improve. While the day is structured around competition, the spirit of the day is focused on recognition of quality student work and constructive feedback from qualified judges. The student experience is so much more important than the outcome of the day. This was such a great opportunity!
The technical events I gave feedback to included costume design, lighting design, theatre marketing, scenic design, short film, sound design, and stage management. It took me most of the day to give constructive feedback to the state tech entry hopefuls. It was clear that some theatre programs offer more tech theatre education than others. I began to wonder about that… after all, tech theatre offers many employment opportunities. Why do programs not offer students more opportunities in tech theatre? I believe the issue is complicated by 2 things – education money and limited tech knowledge of the ever-reducing number of theatre teachers in education.
I had the opportunity to chat with a few of the theatre educators from around the state. These teachers are passionate about what they do on a daily basis. They are good people, doing the best that they can with the limited resources they are given. This is why I volunteer every day. I am passionate about the growth of students in the arts. I am passionate about improving learning opportunities. My friend, the theatre teacher I assist every day, does everything he can to help kids, yet the problem of education often tie his hands. Thus, I volunteer. I believe in being part of the solution, not just complaining about the problems. My theatre education taught me to do just that… make a difference!
These young artists are introduced to the art of theatre within the safe walls of their high school classroom. The teachers who serve them work to find that delicate balance between giving each student the opportunity to grow and putting on a quality production. It’s hard! The pressure to produce an impressive show exists. Yet, most teachers and most parents, understand that what matters most is that students learn from the experience.
Production play a significant learning opportunity for our students. Whether the students are working onstage or off, they all learn communication skills, how to work in a group, humility, how to cope with pressure and work on a deadline, just to name a few lessons learned.
I think these “competitions” hold a similar delicate balance between learning opportunity and quality product. Sometimes judges have trouble embracing this concept. sometimes students do too. “Winning” becomes the object. They’ve missed the point. There is no need to give low scores and crush a kids dreams. There is every reason to give feedback that teaches. There is no need to be mean spirited or “salty” about the success of few students. There is every reason to take the opportunity to learn what you can from the experience.
It’s kind of like a director/teacher giving an opportunity a younger and talented actor in a production as a lead and giving the older, equally talented and more experienced actor the opportunity to play a supporting role. The older actor (and their parents) may question the decision. Truth? The director is fully aware of the older actor’s talents and ability to handle a starring role, however, the opportunity to prove themselves in an ensemble role is an equal learning opportunity. This opportunity will stretch them out of their comfort zone, to learn empathy and to learn ensemble building skills.
In the end, no one will remember who played who in twenty years. They will remember the opportunity to grow as an artist and as an individuals. No one will remember who moved on to State. They will remember the things they learned.
Interestingly, I have observed that educators who put students and their process first end up with an amazing product in the end… even if there isn’t very much money for the arts in education.