For my students, joining our troupe is a way to develop their confidence, have fun, and gain skills they will use throughout their lives. Many troupe members have their first contact with Shakespeare in Performance when they experience a play as an audience member. They are impressed by the joy they see onstage and the boldness of their fellow students in taking on these roles. During the show run and in the weeks following, students show up in my office to ask how they can join. Although in some cases, they are a little afraid, they’d like to have that confidence too, so they audition for a slot for next year.
The most dramatic change I see in my students is a sense of pride in their work.
Shakespeare’s language can be difficult, and in order to communicate meaning to an audience, the actor must know his or her lines very well. Table work like scansion and paraphrasing, hours of memorization, and months of rehearsal culminate in a few exhilarating shows. The payoff is when the audience laughs the joke, sympathizes with the tender moment, and feels the brilliance of the Bard more deeply than they have before. The sense of pride the actor feels in having accomplished such a feat is significant.
These accomplishments transcend the individual. It’s a great feeling to know that your contribution and hard work helped to put on a show, but most students are equally as proud of their fellow actors when they nail a joke or perfect a dance step.
ShakesFam is a Support System
Acting in a troupe is a collaborative experience; each one has to play his or her role in order for the beauty of the whole to be made present. With each rehearsal, meeting and show, the actors take risks together and build trust in each other, thereby continuing to build their web of support. In both the peer-to-peer bonds and relationship with a mentor, the sense of belonging can be a life-changing experience. It’s no surprise that in this environment of self-gift and sacrifice, a theater group becomes almost like a family.
Fear can be an obstacle to self-confidence, and a support system is key to helping young people face and overcome anxieties. In the affectionate warmth of a troupe’s friendship helps students to grow in self-knowledge, to form a stronger identity, and to give confidence which spills over into other aspects of life.
There’s a reason some are pushing for STEM to become STEAM: Arts play a critical role in human development. Acting can improve skills such as focus, listening, emotional intuition, comprehending and utilizing social skills, and even academic performance and cognition.
Memorization of lines can, of course, help a student to study for their other classes. Improv, on the other hand, teaches one how to focus, to live in the moment without thinking of past or future, and to be present to the people around you. In an age of screens and devices, acting forces students to look into each other’s eyes and react to their scene partners. We play emotion, not emojis!
Whether someone is naturally comfortable on stage or needs time to come out of their shell, many young people find that joining a theatre group is transformative. The theatre makes literacy more exciting, but also creates a dynamic environment of affection, work toward a common goal, self-improvement and confidence.