We all get a kick out of seeing our friends and family members up on stage and the school play can be one of the proudest moments in the academic year for parents, unless of course the actor in question muffs his lines or trips over the props!

But there is a lot more to theatre than the spotlight and the brief high that comes with the applause.

King’s College has recognised the importance of theatre as an educational tool for almost 50 years. Back in the early 1970s, it was putting on productions of Cinderella and Pygmalion and by the early 1980s drama teacher Ian Lodge was inspiring actress and director Liz Lobato to follow her dream.

The personal development that can occur simply by stepping into someone else’s shoes should not be underestimated, according to Adele Stanford, head of King’s College Latvia, who explains, “Drama suits both introverted and extroverted personalities. An introvert gets to become a different person when in role and an extrovert gets to be even larger than life. We also use drama and role play in PSHE [Personal, Social, Health and Economic] lessons as a way of supporting children in their empathy skills. One of our favourite techniques is ‘conscience alley’ where children form a walk way and a character walks along it as the children give them advise or act as their conscience and express their thoughts.”

Theatre is said by educational experts to have the power to transform students’ lives, providing them with a safe place to be themselves, explore relationships, develop compassion and understand motives, not to mention boosting their capacity to work as a team.

According to former pupil Virginia Alonso Navarro, who won the school’s Stars In Their Eyes talent contest in the early 2000s and went on to perform The Little Sweep in Madrid’s Royal Theatre, “Drama makes confronting my biggest vulnerabilities a game. It is a playful way to express what cannot be expressed in words… everything is valid, and everything is valuable.”

Students at King’s College’s flagship school in Soto de Viñuelas are currently rehearsing a version of the musical Grease, which is all about vulnerability and self-expression, and the show’s head director Sarah Garrison says, “We wanted to start to build the profile of drama and theatre within King’s College again. In order to do this we felt that we needed a show that was already popular and that offered a range of roles for both boys and girls. We have some extremely talented students and we wanted the opportunity to include as many of them as possible. “

Though the students were not involved in the script, they have been designing the props, scenery, poster and programme for the production, which has its opening night at the start of April.

As the musical has come together, Sarah has noted a number of positive benefits for students apart from helping them to get organised and turn up on time! “It also brings together a group of all ages, meaning that they make friends with older or younger students,” she says. “Their communication skills and resilience also develop as we get closer to the show.”

But there is another less obvious spin-off to theatre in education that involves an improvement in students’ academic performance, perhaps because, as Sarah points out, it helps them to get to grips with different cultures and topics in a very immediate way.

In four longitudinal studies carried out by The Arts And Achievement in At Risk Youth, university professors in the US found that students who were engaged in the arts were almost twice as likely to achieve academic success. As Broadway director Daniel Goldstein says, “All great education requires that the student becomes an active participant in it. The arts force that kind of mind set and that leads into your science classes where you’re figuring out how experiments go.”

Grease may appear to have little to do with kinematics but it is quite possible that portraying a group of US high school kids from the 1950s with all the complex issues they face will help the students’ brains to crank more quickly into gear when getting to grips with the taxing business of the geometry of motion.

Heather Galloway

15 thoughts on “How theatre helps students to become the stars of their own lives

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