Over the course of my career as a drama teacher, I have taught in both public and private schools, middle and high schools, performing arts schools and regular schools. Luckily, I always get the die-hard theatre students who live and breathe every ‘theatre kid problem’ known to man.
Those are the kids who heave a huge sigh of relief when they finally get to my class at the end of the day. However, not all the students in my classes are “theatre kids”. In almost all of the schools, my classes are considered “electives”. Sometimes a student has to take at least one arts class to fulfil their graduation requirements. Usually, they have to choose from the broad categories of drama, music, or visual arts. Without fail I always heard, “Oh I’ll just take drama for an easy A”. Or “I’ll take theatre class because I like Ms. Marele”. Well, they liked me until they realized that there is actual learning and work that goes into my classes. Then suddenly I was like the crazy drama teacher from High School Musical.
So, I had to quickly come up with some ideas to get those non-theatre kids to ‘buy in’ to my class. When I taught Theatre History and we got to Elizabethan Theatre, we all (attempted) to speak in British accents that week. I even made them ask to go to the restroom in an accent. This had even the least interested students giggling. When I gave out class surveys, I was quite surprised with how many of them put it as one of their top 3 favorite things we did in class.
I had a few other tricks up my sleeve to get those non-theatre kids involved. A big fundraiser at one of the performing arts schools I taught at was our annual Haunted House. Any theatre student could sign up to participate. They could be an actor, a tour guide or even design and decorate one of the spooky scary rooms. The Haunted House was a huge event and I loved getting so many non-theatre kids involved.
One year I had a class that was really interested in Spoken Word. So, I taught an entire unit on Spoken Word Poetry. They researched, wrote and performed pieces as part of a Theatre Showcase. These were not performers, not theatre kids, but they owned this project and spoke their words with a truth that was absolutely incredible to watch. I decided to include this unit into my Advanced Acting (and Public Speaking) curriculum.
You’d be surprised how many of them loved to use a drill or paint. Those kids may have never seen a play or a musical, but I encouraged them to sign up for my technical theatre class. They got to use those skills to build or paint the sets and props for the shows. For some of them, it was just an “in class” thing. But I gave them all the option of getting a complimentary ticket so they could see their creation come to life. It was always amazing to see their faces when they saw something they had made on the stage and under the lights. I even got some of them to sign up for tech crew after that first time seeing it all come together.
I could talk to my students until I was blue in the face about what theatre was but I always felt strongly that the only REAL way I could teach about theatre was to get them to see an actual production, especially one with their peers. So one of the best things I did was require the students in my ‘regular’ drama classes to attend at least one production. Depending on the school I was at and/or the show, I asked them to write a review of the show or I gave them a worksheet with basic questions about the production. I gave them an option if they couldn’t pay the $5 student ticket price. They could stay after school with the cast if the show was on a Thursday or Friday night and usher (take tickets and give out programs) and then see the show for free. Usually, once I got them in the theatre that first time, I had them hooked. I loved hearing, “I had no idea [Johnny] could sing like that” or “I loved ushering and telling people to enjoy the show! Can I do it for every show?!” Of course, there were always the students and parents who were unable to attend no matter how many options I gave. In those cases, I asked them to watch a movie musical and had them write a review or answer a similar worksheet on it. I even accepted a Disney musical movie. Sometimes apathy is a cover for a difficult home life so if they were willing to do something to get the credit, I accepted it.
My advice to any drama teacher (new & seasoned) is to re-evaluate your curriculum and constantly try to find new ways to get those non-theatre kids involved in your program. You never know. It could be theatre that changes their life.