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Importance of theatre in the school curriculum

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July 11, 2017

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Importance of theatre in the school curriculum

One-act Plays and short or long skits written by professionals or by teachers or students themselves have a place in the learning sphere.The ever-green film actor and hero, Shah Rukh Khan once revealed that he overcame his shyness and developed his histrionic talent and thus built up his self confidence on the school stage of St. Columba’s School at New Delhi.

How does theatre help students to become confident learners, individuals and later leaders in their chosen professions? My own early life illustrates that. At the age of ten, I was asked by my teachers to take part in a play, but I refused owing to my shyness in appearing before a crowd. Just a few years later, I found myself in a boarding school and my drama teacher forcefully cast me in a play; for what reason I still don’t know. This time I didn’t back out but performed as well as I could. I earned kudos from my classmates and teachers. After that, there was no looking back. I acted not only in short and long plays, even long three-act plays, but also wrote plays, one-act, two-act and three-act plays. Some of them were performed in different schools. A few one-act plays earned prizes in inter-school one-act play competitions. Theatre, therefore, was a positive catalyst for me to develop, intellectually, and emotionally. I became a reader, actor and writer of plays and novels – all in the twelve years of being a student and a young teacher. My theatre activities had developed my personality.

Now you might ask: What is drama? What is theatre?

Drama is based on a fundamental human faculty – imitation. It is through imitation that children learn to walk, talk and do a number of other complicated tasks. Children imitate their elders; play at being policeman, doctors and teachers. This imitative faculty found its conscious expression in religion. Thus evolved Greek drama, which appeared more than two thousand five hundred years ago. It was a part of religious rituals. Similar were the origins of Jewish drama, Chinese drama, all European drama and in a way Indian drama. Though originating in religion, drama eventually moved out to the secular stage. Poetry was then its medium of expression, making it a rich and fabulous experience for the audience. Let’s recall Shakespearean experience, which is one of a kind without a rival. Later, poetry gave way to realistic prose. Thus, after centuries of evolution, drama settled down in its new form, the three-act play.

The one act play, modelled on the earlier longer play, has a long history but it received popularity in the beginning of the past century. Today with the spread of amateur dramatics, the one act play has come into its own. With the spread of cinema and television, dramatic representation has become a major form of artistic expression. The insatiable hunger of the public for drama has made the episodic serialization on television the ‘in’ thing of the day. The teleplay is another form of a short play in cinematic form. Thus, the short dramatic act in its varied manifestations has become the ruling deity of the day. The hurried pace of modern life is hardly conducive to the staging of long and leisurely three act plays. School and college dramatic societies as well as social clubs prefer the one act play as a necessary part of the evening’s function. Hence, the special niche today for a short, crisp and absorbing one act play.

Action, character and dialogue are subject to a sort of concentration in the one act play. The classical ‘unities’ of action, time and place have greater need for adherence as there is limited time and space for performance. Within the space of a mere thirty minutes or so an event must be unfolded, characterization made, and the plot brought to a satisfying end. Like in a short story, not a word or scene must be one too many. The ending must be arresting and appropriate enough to round off the action and perhaps to drive home a message, often indirectly.

What use is drama, one might be tempted to ask. All forms of ritual have elements of drama: a military parade, a prize distribution function, a marriage ceremony, or a reception to a dignitary have bits of drama in them. The urge for participation in rituals and watching it as part of the audience seems to be one of our deep social and psychological needs. Those who put up plays in schools know how healthy an activity dramatics is for school students, how well they co-operate, learn their lines, and pool their acting talents and come up to everyone’s expectations as a group! And what a satisfying experience this is for those involved in the production and for the fortunate audience as well! The play brings the entire school or community together and encourages such social virtues as co-operation and responsibility. It trains the students in self – confidence and poise and improves their diction, voice and articulation.

But the true use of drama is at the deeper levels of emotional experience. In the present day world, how many of us are able to express our deeper emotions? Our daily grind in our run down cities and towns tend to make us callous and insensitive to others. Good plays give us once again an occasion to be able to feel and to experience a release of repressed emotions. We are moved by imagined painful events by sympathizing with a character here or being indignant with a character there. We cry, shed tears profusely at the suffering of innocent characters, or at the cruel play of injustice. Who can claim that he or she has not shed tears, that they have not been carried away by the infliction of cruelty or the wanton play of injustice in a scene in a play or a film? On the contrary, we are moved to laughter at the stupidities of others. The net result is that the participant in the play looks critically at his own self in the light of the imaginary characters he has been deeply involved with. Aristotle calls this the true end result of watching a play and its deep effect on our individual selves – ‘Catharsis’. We all need cathartic moments to purge ourselves of the unwanted and base elements of our emotions.

This is the true personal harvest one can reap from purposeful dramatic activity in the present day world.

Mathew Panamkat holds Master’s degrees in English literature and Linguistics, and also degrees in Philosophy and Education. He is Director of Laurel High School, Pitampura, Delhi. A writer of children’s books, he also conducts workshops for teachers, parents and students on the inculcation of reading habit. Email: mpanamkat@yahoo.com

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