Theater Paper

I wrote a "Big Academic Research Paper" (the BARP) for my Composition class at school about theater and its effect on students.


Students who participate in extracurricular activities have better grades than people who do not. “Participation in extra-curricular activities will foster creative, social and physical skills that are desirable qualities to colleges and future employers. Involvement can strengthen self-esteem, build lasting friendships and create a lifetime of memories” (Kelley 1). Even though students who are busy might not have as much time to finish homework, actively involved students have a better grasp of time management to get everything done. Extracurricular activities teach discipline and teamwork, which are necessary skills for students. Extracurricular activities even provide a break from a heavy academic schedule (Kelley 1).
Extracurricular programs positively affect youth, which helps students succeed to make a better life for themselves, whether that be going to college or simply avoiding dealing drugs. By participating in programs that promote healthy learning, kids have a better future life ahead of them. Government funding for programs help foster students to participate. Any programs that benefit youth should be government funded.
Programs can benefit youth by teaching them about social issues, helping them to become confident, and helping them to succeed academically. When students learn about social issues they are well rounded and open minded in their thinking, especially when there is an outlet fostering creative discussion. When students become confident they are more likely to succeed in their future endeavors. Programs that help students academically ensure more likely success in school. There is debate about how arts programs benefit youth in today’s society as more budgets are cutting arts programs.
Collins Dictionary defines the arts as imaginative, creative, and nonscientific branches of knowledge. This can include visual and performing arts, such as painting, drawing, theatre, music and dance.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 sets standards in subjects such as reading and math that schools must achieve in order to receive federal funding. “Shrinking state and local education budgets matched with the added pressure of the No Child Left Behind Act…have created a new challenge for districts” (Van Harken 1). In October 2011, the FY 12 House Appropriations proposed eliminating Art in Education by -$27.4 million (“Stop the Cuts” 1). Jamie Myrick, an English teacher working at a middle school in California says, “With the push from NCLB to focus on testing, arts and education are treated as if they’re not compatible” (Holcomb 1).
In the 2006 Fiscal Year Education Budget Summary it was proposed to make a cut of 35.6 million dollars in art education, and “these cuts would take away funding for higher art education for many students.” (“Art Education” 1). The Bush administration saw this as necessary and that these types of programs can be funded elsewhere. However, since state governments are also facing budget problems, they passed the burden onto private contributors. After they made budget cuts for arts programs in a Milwaukee school district “morale decreased and vandalism and delinquency has increased” (“Art Education” 1). They had to add disciplinary staff and the additional people cost more than the art programs themselves.
In Miami, Florida, “the percentage of elementary schools with a visual arts class declined from 87 to 83 percent.” (Armario 1). There was a 20 percent to 4 percent drop in the 2009-10 school year for drama classes. Arts funding was cut in an elementary school where eighty-eight percent of students were in poverty and there was a decline in their progression of learning (Armario 1).
According to data compiled by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, “Thirty-one states, still staggered by the recession, cut their arts budgets for the 2012 fiscal year…continuing a downturn that has seen such financial aid drop 42 percent over the last decade” (Progrebin 1). In Kansas Governor Sam Brownback vetoed a proposed budget for the arts of $689,000 and groups stand to lose their matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. Texas cut its aid to the arts by 50 percent and New Jersey cut by 23 percent. In Wisconsin, they reduced state arts money by 67 percent (Progrebin 1). In Kansas Governor Sam Brownback vetoed a proposed budget for the arts of $689,000 and groups stand to lose their matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. Texas cut its aid to the arts by 50 percent and New Jersey cut by 23 percent.
A report commissioned by the Arts Education Partnership and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in 2005, cites research studies documenting more than sixty-five distinct relationships between the arts and academic and social outcomes, including “visual arts instruction and reading readiness, dramatic enactment and conflict resolution skills, and learning piano and mathematics proficiency” (Holcomb 1). Students who had participated in arts activities also had growth in social skills, including “self-confidence and self-control, conflict resolution and collaboration, and empathy and social tolerance” (Holcomb 1).
The arts should be funded because it gives kids confidence and helps them express themselves and branch out creatively. During a community outreach program with the Living Stage Theatre Company of Washington, D.C. teen mothers in high-risk environments who participated in the program went from having a generally low opinion of themselves to a newfound “determination to survive their difficult circumstances in spite of the formidable odds arrayed against them” (Nelson 3). The women had discussions about world issues and started to use art in the way of photography and sculpture to express themselves: “The young women received consistent, sincere, positive feedback that helped them become more comfortable with expressing themselves” (Nelson 4). Throughout the workshops, the young women chose how their own scenes went, and they had the protagonist overcoming the obstacles in their way. Many of them chose to become less tolerant of shabby treatment from their boyfriends; because of the arts they began to believe that they could change their own lives as well. This directly related to my own personal experience as a Stage Manager for the Theater Department. I started as a timid person not used to giving direction and blossomed into someone who can stand up for herself and get things done. The arts gave me the confidence that made me the person I am today.
In addition to the Living Stage experiment, Sherry Jason started City Hearts in Los Angeles and offered free dance classes to inner city students. Jason said, “The applause from the audience is a significant factor, because usually it is the only time that they've been applauded for anything” (Mehuron 2). The students who started coming to City Hearts were astonished when they learned they could dance instead of deal drugs or commit crimes. A student said that telling him not to do drugs was not going to do anything, but giving him a reason not to do drugs is everything (Mehuron 9). Other students said that they did not want to join a gang because then they will get killed and cannot dance (Mehuron 4). The arts are their reason. To start City Hearts Jason paid out of pocket, and this program would have progressed and expanded so much further if the government had funded it and started programs similar to it.
There should be funding for the arts because theater teaches kids about social issues. Theater covers so many different topics and people can use theater to educate kids about issues in a creative platform where there is room for discussion. Living Stage helps to educate teen mothers on prevalent social issues, “such as drug abuse, AIDS, teenage pregnancy and suicide” (Nelson 2). Federal and local government partially fund the company’s annual budget as well as other contributions, but other programs similar to this should be government funded.
Florida State University devised a program about the transition from childhood into adulthood called Life in the Middle and a program called Lend Us Your Voice. In these programs that could be easily government funded, the ensemble created original theatre pieces to “provide a public forum for students’ concerns, issues and voices” (Page 2). After Life in the Middle’s production of The Giver, they developed an original play describing the lives of middle-school students, using their voices as the text. Graduate students conducted interviews and helped with the script and cast of the play. The program “engaged middle-school students in the theatre-making process and provide them with a forum in which to speak openly” (Page 3). They chose four high schools to participate in Lend Us Your Voice. The leaders “sought to establish an open space where the students could freely express their ideas and thoughts. We realized that listening to the students' creative voices and input would result in more interesting and significant theatre” (Page 4). The students’ impacted awareness of the community through this project is a profound accomplishment and programs that initiate this type of learning should be government funded.
Seattle Children’s Theater produced many plays regarding prevalent social issues. Topics include loss of parents, the effects of discrimination according to sexual orientation, AIDS, and many historical issues. Historical context is present in addition to the social issues: the effects of concentration camps, interracial friendship during the Civil War, witchcraft and its effects in 1687, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, medieval society, and Japanese-Americans during World War II (McKean 5). “Children can indeed handle and must be given opportunities to think about, respond to and deliberate the many sides of the big, messy and controversial questions” (McKean 2).
Bullying has a huge prevalence in students of this generation and is an issue that we need to deal with. Stan Foote, artistic director of Oregon’s Children Theatre in Portland was bullied as a child, “All I wanted to do was get out. And then I found theatre” (Horn 3). He attributed positive changes in his life to theatre, and he wanted to get together and talk about this issue with others to bring national attention. They performed four ten-minute readings of “Bully Plays” at the One Theatre World conference to educate youth on the effects of bullying on a middle school level. Topics included people from different social groups being put together and bullying other people, as well as using zombies as a metaphor and a courtroom drama that reveals a guy who raped a girl finding out that the girl has since committed suicide (Horn 4). I believe the messages coming across in these type of plays show and educate kids about bullying without lecturing them, almost like the anti-bullying message is just a side effect of the theater being performed. Nothing is forced and in return, theater is educating youth on a huge problem in today’s society.
There should be funding for the arts because it helps kids academically. Despite the fact that the arts has been proven to help children in school, some people think that the government should not fund arts programs because they do not matter and kids should focus on academics. At City Hearts an eight year old in a gang had missed seventy days of school, but once he saw a ballet performance the men who were in the piece inspired him, and that turned him onto reading and math (Mehuron 4). By watching people dance, he focused more on his academics. Hazel Nelson, a school principal says that, “problem kids become less of a problem with art in their lives” (Mehuron 6). At fourteen years old Gabriel Mercedes knew that art helps academically: “For me to accomplish my music goals, I must know my math; and to be a studio musician, I must know how to read business contracts” (Mehuron 8). Fractions contribute to understanding time and rhythm in music; geometry and art help with what an angle is (Mehuron 10). A supporter of City Hearts "It costs more to keep a kid incarcerated--$25,000 per year--than to send him to Harvard…We have to go to these funding agencies on faith and say, `To offer 500 elementary kids the arts is definitely going to see change and prevention of crime and welfare dependency later on.'" (Mehuron 11).
According to Teresa Eyring, newly appointed Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national service organization for the American not-for-profit theatre, students with in depth arts involvement and low socioeconomic students were 15 percent more likely to enroll in a highly, or moderately, selective four-year college than a low socioeconomic student with less arts involvement. Eyring was speaking with a U.S. official and asked if there were any “arts-specific investments being made” (Eyring 1). The answer was, “Not really”. Eyring believes “the arts must be considered a pillar of social infrastructure worthy of investment” and I one hundred percent agree with her. If the government funded more arts programs, the country would be in a better place. Citizen-building in the way of the arts is essential in creating a community in which everyone can express themselves to the fullest and be educated on prevalent issues the world faces.
            Performing arts programs should be government funded. Eyring wrote, “we will build a better world for theatre to create a better world because of theatre” (Eyring 1). I am a firm believer that theater helps kids in more ways than I can possibly count. It has changed my life and can change so many more, if only the government better supported it. By increasing funding instead of cutting it, the world could be a better and more educated place. I encourage everyone, no matter his or her age, to bring this issue up to the government: something as small as writing a letter to a local congressman to bring the issue to the public. “We must make theatre more accessible and demonstrate why theatre is essential to individuals and society” (Page 2).


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