By: Karen LaShelle, Executive and Artistic Director
All the time people ask me “What is it about theatre? Why is that the medium you all are using to reach kids?” It’s fun to tell people about the power of the theatre arts, and how I have seen the art form be an effective means for helping young people develop. Over the next few months I will share my thoughts on the variety of ways theatre helps cultivate self-efficacy, critical thinking skills, creativity, confidence and an ability to communicate and work well with others.
Self-efficacy and the Process of Theatre
Theatre provides an excellent way to cultivate the self-efficacy of young people. Self-efficacy simply means one’s capabilities to achieve a goal or an outcome. For those of us who have been in plays, we know that the experience of mounting a show–in collaboration with a variety of people some of whom you like, and some of whom you barely know and may not even like!–is a unique journey that teaches you how to be a part of a team that makes something from nothing. I believe that going through that process helps teach a young person how to be successful, and that they can then apply those same skills to anything from rocket science to rock climbing.
I use the skills of being a theatre artist everyday–and not to make theatre. I have absolutely no training in business, but for me, making TAP is a lot like making a play. As I have built TAP over the past 7 ½ years, it is my theatre practice that helped me to set a vision and then methodically pull together the people, resources and processes necessary to make it all come to life.
In theatre, you find or create a script and then really flesh out your vision, you then find a cast, rehearse and train, design a set and costumes to help tell the story, give direction and notes to the entire team helping them to manifest the vision, and then once it’s all ready to go spread the word and get people to come see the show. I think that is what we do here at TAP everyday! We come up with an idea for a program, really make a clear vision for the goals and outcomes we hope to achieve, develop the curriculum and structures to deliver the message, find the right teachers and staff, train them, monitor and direct them to make the best program and then do all we can to get funders and schools to want to be a part of it.
The process of making theatre also involves critical thinking and problem solving. As in anything, not everything goes according to plan. But, the show must go on! So, you learn to just keep adapting and working to make it all work. There is no giving up in theatre–you don’t hit a wall and decide to cancel the show. You keep forging ahead and you have a specific deadline of opening night. You push yourself hard to pull it all together and even when it feels like there is no way it will all come together–it always does. These lessons are lessons I apply everyday as we hit so many brick walls and challenges with our nonprofit organization. But, theatre taught me a kind of perseverance and tenacity.
Being in a cast is like being part of any team. You must work together to make it work. If you can’t figure out how to communicate and work with your cast mates, director, and designers it can really affect the show in negative ways. Imagine two actors sharing a scene on stage but one is only focused on himself and his lines not really listening to the other–not responding at the right time, not responding with the right emotion. It just wouldn’t make any sense. It would totally be out of sync and not deliver the story of the play. As a theatre artist you figure out how to listen, share and work together both in the show and in the process of making the show. You do it for the sake of the product and you do it because it becomes clear very quickly that there is no other way to be successful. Once again, I use these skills as a business person every day. I have learned that one must listen, collaborate and function as part of a complicated team. No one can pull off anything great alone! Here at TAP we are a team, a cast. We each have different roles and we all need each other. If one person drops the ball the entire team suffers.
There are so many other ways the art of theatre helps us “rehearse for life.” Please share your thoughts! How do you think that being a part of theatre has helped you develop as a person? How does it play out in your business? How does it affect the way you communicate?