As a high school drama teacher, I cannot imagine practising my profession without attending live theatre. In the age of iPads and YouTube, visual media is dominating the lifestyle of the 21st century teenager. While I do believe there will always be a place for live theatre in our culture, there is no better time than today to instill the passion of theatre in the minds and heart of our students.
One of the best compliments I have ever received from a student after attending the theatre was when a 17 year-old said to me the show we had just seen was better than any of the films she had seen in the past year. That’s a big call from a teenager! Television, computers and film seem to offer so much more than live theatre to the youth of today who often seem to be programmed only to enjoy seeing something if it is on a screen.
I tell my students that as good as film can be, it is a dead art. What they see has been filmed out of sequence in multiple locations over many weeks, months ago, and chopped up in the editing room. Actors receive an opportunity for many takes at various scenes, perfecting it until the content is acceptable. But the theatre is a living art. What a young person sees is alive on a stage only metres away in the same space. The actors must get it right on the night for the audience and there is no greater pressure and challenge than that.
In the theatre, audience members all have a slightly different perspective of the same action from different seats in the house. Some can see only parts of a stage set, while others may see lighting instruments as well and everyone has a different view. If one is fortunate to see the same show more than once (I’m no fanatic, but I’ll happily admit I saw the stage version of the musical Hairspray four times), then the joy is in understanding how no one stage performance is exactly the same .. but that reel of film is identical across the globe.
Drama students can gain so much valuable knowledge from attending live theatre, either with their teacher, parents or friends. The company is not important, it is the experience that matters most. A young person can only receive so much from reading about the theatre in a book, listening to their teacher in the classroom or even reading a play. There is no substitute for attending the theatre and no better method for a student to learn about the wonderful craft we teach.