Theatre Education For Young People Education Essay

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As 'theatre' being regarded as human's behavior which covers all the performative activities in our daily life, what should be chosen from the system/concept of 'theatre' for young people to know about?

This essay intends to consider what young people should learn from theatre and the way (for educators) how to teach.

What we called theatre today? If think about what should learn from it. Obviously it is necessary to concern a relatively clear concept for what we called theatre today. At the beginning of this essay, it will discuss how 'theatre' being recognized in the contemporary society.

Next, this essay will discuss what are the objectives the educators want to approach after organize the whole practice process? Because the aims for the young people's theatre education will not only guide how to organize this practice process, but also decide the principles accompany with the process.

These objectives are not focus on how many pieces of theatre let young people take participate in, but pay great emphasis on the communications. In the last part of this essay will explore 'communications' by different parts through theatre-related contents and discuss how to convey these contents in the class.

In everyday life, 'if' is a fiction, in the theatre 'if' is an experiment. In everyday life, 'if' is an evasion, in the theatre 'if' is the truth. When we are persuaded to believe in this truth, then the theatre and life are one. To play needs much work. But when we experience the work as play, then it is not work any more.

-- Peter Brook, The Empty Space (1972) [1] 

Learning to see another human being not as a thing but as a full person is not an automatic event but an achievement that requires overcoming many obstacles, the first of which is the sheer inability to distinguish between self and other.

--Nussbaum M

Not for profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010) [2] 

What we called theatre today?

From the twentieth century till now, after approximately a hundred years, the role of drama and theatre in young people's education has attracted more and more attention. When we talk about 'theatre', what this word mean? What will be recalled from our memory? Is there a building where the stage performances take place? Or emerge an experience of seeing a play. When we related 'theatre' to another closely-linked term 'drama', what are the differences between them? From Oxford Dictionary [3] , the definitions for 'theatre' and 'drama' are as follows:

These definitions are showing many aspects we use in our daily life. But for drama schools and theatre departments, they try to explore meanings of topics from 'drama' and 'theatre' when considered these two terms as different systems (or concepts) which shared lots of overlapped parts. And in different culture, 'drama' and 'theatre' also could be seen as the same concept. For example, in China, these two terms were translated into one word 'Xiju'. (When refer to the place where stage performances take place, there has another word 'Juchang'.)

Obviously, in western culture, the distinction between 'drama' and 'theatre' should be retrospect to the history where these words came form and what the original meanings of them. Some educators and practitioners devote their time to find how to describe these distinctions with both history and contemporary considerations.

Historically, 'drama' has often been used to refer to dramatic literature and 'theatre' to refer to the performance of dramatic literature.


The emergence of new and distinctive forms of drama since the invention of film and TV has also led to new meanings for the term drama. It has become more usual to use the term drama as a generic, or umbrella, term to cover all that is associated with the making, performing and responding to performance, whether it is live or recorded on film or TV.


Theatre on the other hand is now often seen as one of the subheadings of drama. It is used to refer to the live performance of a drama, which is shared with an audience. [4] 

These descriptions are not definitions. These are the cognitions for what we called 'drama' and 'theatre' today. And from these cognitions, we realized that 'drama' has related to so many aspects which covered from literature to performance productions, while 'theatre' paying more attention about the live performances and the communications accompany with these performances.

These are relatively clear concepts which described the key elements in both 'drama' and 'theatre'. As we think about young people's education rather than doing research on one of the topics from drama and theatre area (like most professional drama and theatre studies do), the concept of 'drama' as we discussed above is too wide, which 'theatre' as one of 'subheadings' of it would be more suitable to take into concern.

For the 'theatre', there also remains another aspect needs to be mentioned: the recognizing of the 'theatre' is a developing progress. There is no end, but limitless spaces deserve exploring. In chronological sequence, for a long time, scholars have described theatre as a 'compound' work of art, which including literary text, sound effect, set and costume design, acting, etc. This compared simple concept is accepted by a large amount of people until semioticians began to explain 'theatre' as a 'system of signs'. This recognizing provided a new horizon for both scholar and spectator to find meanings in the world of signs. But now some scholars have expressed their re-thinking about semiotics and provided a new look as thinking 'theatre' to be a concept which covers all the performative activities around our daily life (Willmar Sauter 2000).

The field of semiotics, which was in vogue at the time, was not very useful in empirical reception studies: spectators do not perceive 'signs' which they describe and interpret for a scholar; they perceive 'meaning' -- and they have fun! Semiotics had no way of accounting for the pleasure and the enjoyment which spectators experience in the theatre.

The idea of theatre is too wide to be caught in a single statement or in some recipe-like descriptions, especially when theatre is thought of as a phenomenon including all kinds of performative activities. [5] 

These different cognitions of 'theatre' do not conflict with each other, but considering in different positions. Obviously when we talk about theatre now, we pay much attention about the relationship between performers and spectators than before. In the concept of 'compound' work of art, there has less consideration to involve audience to be an indispensable part in theatre. Semiotics created a world of signs. It began to regard spectators to be an integral part of communicative process at understanding level. When considered theatre as a concept which covers all kinds of performative activities, people begin to put emphasis on the communication. It has attracted so many attentions on the relationship between performers and spectators than before.

At this background, when we think about the role drama and theatre in young people's part, there already have a lot of drama lessons lay great emphasis on literature, and for the other countries also use this kind of courses to teach English. In this phenomenon, the functions of drama and theatre education for young people are facing limitations.

In recent years, when people's recognizing is developing, young people's drama lessons began to pay more attention about performative activities and communications. And there be marked out a link between performative activities and communications. In this situation, the concept of 'drama' sometimes is not so accurate when compared with 'theatre'.

Objectives and guiding principles

There are so many subjects in school facing to the young people. Even now people attract more attention on theatre education than before, the fact is young people are influenced by social environment.

Too many parents want their children's minds to function as their own do--as if mature understanding of ourselves and the world, and our ideas about the meaning of life, did not have to develop as slowly as our bodies and minds. [6] 

They do preparations for their future careers prematurely. Compared with drama and theatre related career, the future for those careers are more practical in most people's thoughts.

This phenomenon is not only exists in theatre education area, but also in arts.

Most people could live perfectly well without any art at all, and even if they regretted its absence it would not hamper their functioning in any way. [7] 

After the industrial revolution, with the developing of science and technology, the time which took most concern of 'meaning' is getting changed. The power of science and technology reach toward every respect of humans' life, but this is a tiny minority people's intelligence contribution and thousands of years' accumulation. We stand at this high level directly when we born to this earth. The abilities of our cognition, understanding and emotion quotient could hardly match with that tiny minority group of people who have created so many things for us already. However, human society still makes unceasing progress. Most of people keep learning all their life, but still know a little. The more we study, the fewer we thinking we have learnt. Because this 'process' are lasting thousands of years, we only got the 'result'.

How to live with all the by-products of this 'result' harmoniously? People learn to be wise. It requires someone's minds to think things rationally. It is a good way for people to keep clam and rational to treat things, but sometime it also bring another effect -- indifferent. People try to acquire a better living condition but lose the interests to think about others, think about caring. Are there no meanings (or meaningless) to care about others? Is the time which took meaning into concern is over? Then, why so many people go back to drama-like soap-opera, commercial TV shows as their entertainments, if they couldn't find meanings in them? The answer is 'they perceive meaning - and they have fun' (Willmar Sauter, 2000). It tells us: the emotion from our minds and the desire we try to find the meanings are the nature of the human beings.

When these questions meet with young people's education, to be educators, what the directions we choose to lead young people to think about?

Today, as in times past, the most important and also the most difficult task is raising a child is helping him to find meaning in life.


To find deeper meaning, one must become able to transcend the narrow confines of a self-centered existence and believe that one will make a significant contribution to life.--if not right now, then at some future time. [8] 

There are two main directions lead theatre education functioning. One is to help young people break the self-centered existence recognizing self and others, and the other one is to cultivate young people's potential creative strength.

Theatre, when be regarded as a concept which covers all the performative activities, obviously lay great emphasis on the communications. It will not only help educator focus on encouraging young people's communication activities, but also could be thought as a general social science. And at the beginning of the 21st century, Richard Schechner in his performance studies related these performative activities to our daily life. The relationship of performance and life are so close. It also tells us the relationship between theatre and life.

The underlying notion is that any action that is framed, presented, highlighted, or displayed is a performance.


People not only gab on their cell phones to converse via instant messaging, but they also read each other's body languages across culture. [9] 

He marks out a link among theatre-performance-life, which 'lead us to explore the limits between life and theatre' (Augusto Boal [10] ).

The objectives the educators want to approach after organize the whole process for young people's theatre education should be based on these understandings. There will demonstrate some main objectives as follows:

·Providing the main concepts and theories as a tool of communication that let young people to share their feelings and inspire their thinking.

·Encourage young people to built their own performance experience -- which including both the experience of performers and audiences.

·Try to break the narrow confines of a self-centered existence through communications.

·Try best to help young people experience various type of emotions form external world, in order to arouse their inner emotions -- which mostly based on intercultural dramatic text.

·Try to cultivate the ability of construction of knowledge, not limited at school time but provide young people new horizons by arousing their interest for both self-exploration and an opportunity for career prospect.

The guiding principles are accompanying with realizing these objectives.

·This is a recognizing progress for young people, both the recognizing of theatre and recognizing of their own.

·The understanding of theatre is not an aim but a bridge for their own explore in the future, if not in the drama and theatre related filed, it will be in the other fields.

·The work is trying to cultivate an ability which will be benefit for young people's emotion and give them the possible to find their own meanings for life.

The contents in class

As the aims to organize this whole learning process is based on the functioning of communication. Obviously, the process will not focus on how many pieces of theatre let young people take participate in and show to the parents. And also will not pay the great emphasis on literary-text like drama lessons do. It will explore the 'communications' by different parts through theatre-related contents to convey in the class.

·the communication language

This part covers the key concepts and theories of theatre. It will be provided as a tool of communications. These theories and concepts of theatre not only could help young people to get the understanding about what is theatre, but also could inspire their thinking. As this introduction process accompanied with the physical practice, young people could get a language from the class to share their feelings and discuss their opinions.

Considered that there are so many concepts, theories from theatre, how to make a clear intention what should be taught to the young people? Actually this is depending on the educators' themselves' understanding about theatre. It is hard to draw a principle. And if there has a principle, it will limit the educators to put their owning good thinking into practice as well. But it is still necessary to have a suggestion. Then, as follows, there are some methods demonstrate how to organize these contents.

- In chronological sequence

Is in chronological sequence, these concepts and theories means to introduce the history of theatre to the young people as much as possible?

This is a method which helps educator to organize the theatre-related contents by chronological sequence. It provides an outline of theatre history. When this method functions with the other organized methods, it could help both educator and the young people have a clear clue to relate their knowledge of time and also the place.

- The introduction of some great playwrights and their works.

In this introduction, it also can be divided by different parts. It can be divided followed the boundary of countries and the times. Some great playwrights need to be introduced not only their works but also their live experience. Like the three great tragedians in ancient Athens -- Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. Young people could understand the culture, history and people's faith by introduce the story of ancient Athens. The playwrights in European countries like Shakespeare, his masterpieces could bring the young people the new experience of the different time and how the situation changed form that time till now. And the playwrights in different European countries, like in Russia, Chekhov's works could bring young people the understanding of different social environment and Russia people's life in that particular time. Above all, the playwright's masterpieces could not only bring young people the cognition of the different time and place which the stories happened but also the experience of the characters themselves. The knowledge in these works could be expanded widely.

- The introduction of some great directors and their practice theories.

From the ancient Athens' time, playwright is the most important person in the play. This is common phenomenon of the original theatre. As the time past, in 19 century when director identified with other occupation like playwrights, performers and designers, like a conductor of the play. There has a developing process when the most famous two directors began their practice. One is Stanislavski, the other is Brecht. Educator should also provide the basic knowledge about the theories from Stanislavski and Brecht.

Besides, there also have several directors who make the great practice in this field. Like Grotowski's self-exploration theory.

- Different genre, style of theatre.

There are so many genres, styles of theatre in different culture. Educator should pick up some of them as model to introduce to young people.

·the communication methods

This part is focus on how to lead young people to acquire their own experience through communications in class. The experiences are including both the experiences of performers and the experiences of spectators.

There also exists a phenomenon that some young people are not enjoying in the theatre education class. In some extent, theatre education is different from the other subjects they faced, it based on young people to take part in and related to a lot of elements of performance -- which in large amount people's thought be equal to the term 'acting'. Students will take more practice during the class progress instead of sitting in the chair to think. Also in some people's mind, 'acting' which required some professional skills. When young people first thought about theatre maybe recall some memories form watch a professional play at art centre or on the TV shows. Some extroverted young people would like to participate in a lot particular things they are interested in, but on the other side, some introverted young people show in different way. It not indicates they are not interested in doing some things, just show different way. How the educators deal with it when meet this situation? How to help them to join in the communication with others and find the meanings from the things they also interested with?

- Relax

When young people get into the classroom, they will show their different state. At the beginning of the class, educator could organize some games and plays help them to relax.

It is good way to provide the time for them to adjust this different learning atmospheres from other subjects. These games and plays not only as a tool let their mood relax, but also a kind of performance. It is not necessary for educator to choose some competitive games. The principle for educator to choose the game is that the games which would allow young people to have time to relax from the pressure and help them engaged in the coming activities well.

When organize a good relax process, it will bring the good effect on the whole class progress. At the same time, those compared introverted young people have more time to adjust this situation. It will reduce their tension and let them join their friends in the following process.

- To feel the place/space.

Try to consider the place/space which sometimes the young people not pay much attention in their daily life. It is also an essential step to build the recognizing about others. When they stand on one place, where are the others? How far from self to the others? In this process, educator try to help young people to build up the concept of space, it will help them to take others into concern, especially when they stand at one place which focus on much more attention than in the daily life. When standing on a place which you know in the center of other people's eyes, try to be clam down and care about others which share this space with you. In this situation, it will require more concern about others than in the daily life. It is a good way to exercise young people's ability to concern about others.

- To feel the body

It has a lot of similarities with 'to feel the place/space'. Feeling the existence of body is at the beginning to the self-exploration. Before let young people to get into the self-exploration there requires them to recognize themselves first. What can be created by their body? And do they find the strength and power from their own? When the time they could feel this strength or power, they could find their own meanings for creation and to be confident.

And the concept of 'body' is not only limited at self, it also can be see the other objectives around us. The communication both with self and others is being built accompany with this recognizing process.

- Performance and self-exploration

As discussed above, the concept of performance is related to every respect of our daily life. The concept of performance is not equal to the term 'acting'. When we organize this learning process for young people, the one essential task is help them clear this difference. What is performance? What is acting? And young people will learn from it not be limited at the professional performance level but in every respect of their daily life. When organize some text-based pieces of theatre for young people to practice, this process will help them to recognize themselves first and then recognize others who share the same space with, and also the characters in the texts.

He (Grotowski) understood that in order to become thoroughly acquainted with the self, an 'other' was required. This is because, in everyday life, we measure ourselves alongside other people. For example, we understand our own weakness by recognizing the strengths in others, and vice, versa. [11] 

The self-exploration process is also a self-recognizing progress, which will accompany with young people's self seeking progress for the meaning of their life. This will not be limited at the school time, but a lifelong journey. Educators provide the key to let young people open up the door by themselves.

- Devising experience

After understanding several basic elements from theatre and performance, it is the time for young people to open up their mind to make things happen.

They can choose a piece of dramatic-text and direct it into a piece of theatre. Or write a text themselves and also make it into a piece of theatre. This devise process will require the communication with each other, and make things happen with their own body. They also need to consider about others all the time. It could cultivate the ability for young people to organize things together. It is an important experience for them to create things by their own, when at first there have noting only the some thoughts in their mind.

- Rehearsal experience

This is a part belongs to the devise. When young people choose a piece of text or they write their own script. This is a practice process. When the images and movements are created the first time, it will be revised or give up during this whole process. They can got a lot from these process and acquire precious rehearsal experience. After several time's rehearsal, they could find different meanings in the one work at different levels.

Repetition eventually brings about change: harnessed to an aim, driven by a will, repetition is creative.


At the same time, repetition is a word with no glamour; it is a concept without warmth; the immediate association is a deadly one. [12] 

When young people go through this creating process, they perceive the meanings of rehearsal experience. And educator can guide them to thinking about this rehearsal process. It also can be the representation which conveys the different feelings every time, both for the performers and spectators.

·emotional experience from other theatre-related materials

The methods above are which suitable for convey in the class. And build this emotional experience could be better let young people to explore by themselves.

This process will focus on how to get more emotional experience from outside the class. Young people can read drama literature as much as they like. Educator will guide how to analysis the model texts. It will give young people a key to acquire more emotional experience from the literary texts. This also a kind of communication, when young people get understand about the characters form the text. This situation sometimes is being treated as the communication between playwrights and readers as well.

And how to read different types of literature like poetic, novel and dramatic-text. Educator also can help them to recognize the differences between different types literature.

Last but not least, young people could acquire more experience when they go to theatre to watch different plays accompany with their own thinking. It is the most effective way to get to know what we called theatre today, and the way how the professional directors organized their own play.


When considered about what should be taught to children and the way how to let them perceive the information effectively, we concern the meaning both of teaching and receiving. The field of theatre has many precious treasures. Everyone could acquire a lot from it.