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Why live theatre is for all students

It’s not just drama students who will gain a great deal from experiencing live theatre, says Alex Weller – the rest of their peers will, too...

  • Why live theatre is for all students

Live theatre can immerse young people in creativity, develop cultural capital and encourage a technology-focused generation to look up from their phones, be present and focus on a live experience.

But is it just for drama students, or should visiting the theatre be an opportunity offered to all students? Either way, how can we get around the ever-increasing ticket prices?

As I’m sure any drama teacher would tell you, watching live theatre is an invaluable experience for any drama student.

Whether it be a play, musical, professional show or amateur production, live performance can provide students with creative ideas for their own devising work, and enable them to consider how meaning can be communicated on stage – more so than any classroom practice can offer alone.

In the moment

Plays are meant to be performed live, and being in the same space as the actors creates an atmosphere for the audience that cannot be achieved just through reading it aloud. But watching live theatre shouldn’t be limited to only those students who have chosen to study drama.

It is important that all young people are given the opportunity to see live theatre at some point in their school life.

It is our duty as educators to provide children with a variety of educational and cultural experiences that will help to shape and influence the adults that our students go on to become.

Live theatre is a fantastic way for children to accumulate cultural capital, and the reality is that not all children we teach will have had the opportunity to go to the theatre.

A trip like this might just be the eye-opening experience that motivates them to aspire for more, encourages them to seek new experiences and potentially, unbeknownst to them, advances their social mobility.

Also, without sounding too obvious, going to the theatre with your friends, on a coach, without your parents is fun. What better reason could there be?

Cost concerns

However, though it’s easy to list the reasons of why we should take students to the theatre, the reality and logistics involved are unfortunately not quite as clear cut.

In the current educational climate, drama is significantly undervalued and underfunded, making it increasingly difficult to offer students such opportunities – particularly when theatre tickets and travel costs are so high.

Yet it’s precisely because of this that it is more vital now than ever that we seek out ways of enabling students to see live theatre.

If London’s West End shows are not a possibility, then there are other options available that can help you keep costs low, while still ensuring that children are able to engage with this wonderful art form.

The Globe Theatre, for example, offers £5 standing tickets for many of their performances. Now, this option might not be suitable for all students, since standing for over two hours can be difficult for anyone, let alone a group of 11-year olds.

It could, however, be a brilliant opportunity for GCSE and A level students – one which will not only provide with them entertainment, but also give an insight into the theatre history that England is so famous for.

Let’s do the show right here

Alternatively, if travelling to a theatre is the main difficulty thanks to the coach costs, you could potentially host a visiting theatre company at your school for an evening performance or during the school day.

Finally, although it slightly defeats the object of seeing live theatre, technology has opened many new possibilities and opportunities for viewing outstanding theatre via streamed performances. Look into National Theatre Live, which streams some of its productions directly to cinemas.

There’s also the National Theatre Collection, which makes the best of British theatre available in classrooms through high quality recordings of world-class productions, and The Royal Shakespeare Company, whose regular Schools’ Broadcasts are live streamed directly to schools.

No matter which route you choose, the ultimate goal is for as many children as possible to have some exposure to live theatre. It is an experience that everyone should be able to have at least once, which should arguably outweigh the financial cost (unless its £100 a ticket for a restricted view)...

Alex Weller is head of drama at Plume Academy in Maldon, Essex, and tweets as @ITeachDrama2.

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