Ever since my debut as “chorus member” in my kindergarten theater production of “The Three Piggy Opera” (yes, that was really the name of the show), I have lived and breathed the performing arts. I’ve spent hours upon hours practicing dramatic monologues, schlepping through tech rehearsals and hanging out on the green room couches with my fellow thespians. All throughout my acting days, my parents were there to support me. They drove me to every rehearsal, brought food to every dress rehearsal potluck and sat in the front row at every performance, whether I liked it or not.
But not all of my fellow actors were so lucky. A lot of my peers’ parents scolded them for pursuing the performing arts, complaining that rehearsing for plays and choir concerts wasn’t a good use of time. “Prancing around on a stage in front of a bunch of strangers won’t help you get into college,” they’d say, shaking their heads.
These Negative Nancies couldn’t be more wrong; many sources agree that creative pursuits are an impactful addition to college applications. College aside, the performing arts (theater, especially) can teach students valuable life skills, regardless of what they decide to pursue professionally.
What is acting if not public speaking in a costume? All theater kids learn how to speak from the diaphragm to produce more sound. The ability to crank up the volume when needed allows people to command the presence of a room, which is an important leadership quality.
Non-performing aspects of theater, like directing and stage managing, can also help students develop valuable leadership skills.
2. Communication and Storytelling
Acting teaches people how to grab the audience’s attention and convey a story in a compelling way. Improv is especially helpful when it comes to communication because it encourages people to think on their feet. This can be useful in speeches, job interviews and even day-to-day conversations — improv masters can pull witty remarks and intelligent responses to questions out of thin air.
Building an engaging character takes out-of-the-box originality and spunk. The technical aspects of putting on a production, like costuming and set design, also require innovation and new ideas. Ultimately, theater can nurture a student’s artistic and whimsical side, which is just as important as algebra or grammar.
4. Persistence and Discipline
Trust me, learning lines is no piece of cake. It requires hours of practice and concentration. Rehearsing can also be a long and arduous process, especially during tech week when actors and techies basically live at the theater. Scenes need to be rehearsed over and over to ensure consistency, which teaches determination and perseverance.
If you take on a role in a play, the rest of the ensemble is relying on you to pull through and do a good job. Only you can make sure that you learn your lines and your blocking. Only you can control if you show up to rehearsals on time and bring your script with you. By completing these tasks, theater kids learn the importance of commitment and accountability.
When learning lines, actors teach themselves important memorization tips and tricks that can be applied to any memory-related task. This can help in academic endeavors like giving a book report or studying for an AP exam.
Additionally, when performing, actors need to focus on a lot of things at once — lines, intonation, physicality, blocking, chemistry with other characters, etc. — which makes them great multitaskers. Many acting instructors and directors will also do focus exercises with their cast, which improves concentration.
One of the most important traits the performing arts can give a student is the ability to connect with others. Acting out specific characters requires empathy and compassion; you have to understand your character’s motivation and personality inside and out to portray them correctly. Being able to step into another person’s shoes, whether it be a character in a play or a real life human being, is vital in forming and maintaining relationships.
When putting on a production, being a team player is essential. Performers have to learn to work together with their scene partners to create convincing chemistry on stage. Additionally, there is a lot of cooperation between actors, techies and the director. Putting on a show would be impossible without teamwork and collaboration.
Theater is where I found my people. Theater kids may seem edgy, cliquey or weird from the outside, but drama geeks are open and accepting of everyone. Even those who feel alone or have trouble navigating the complex social hierarchies of middle and high school can find their place in the lighting booth or on the green room couch.
Going through the process of creating such a large-scale work of art together binds drama geeks in a way that may be difficult to replicate in any other extracurricular.
All in all, the most important thing that theater can give a teenager is self-confidence. Acting requires you to be vulnerable and step out of your comfort zone in front of hundreds of strangers. Once you learn to feel comfortable taking that risk, no future endeavor is out of reach.
So, to all you high schoolers out there who have had older folks try to stomp on your passion for performing, don’t let them get you down. And to all the parents who don’t think that theater is worthwhile, I hope you’ll remain open-minded when your child tells you that they want to audition for the school musical. Theater has changed my life for the better, and I know that it can do the same for so many more kids if they get the opportunity.