I was 15 years young when I started theatre. I really wish I had started earlier, now that I understand why theatre matters and how it can channelize one's creativity, energy and thought. My initial theatre workshops in school were all about fun and playing games. Today, when I look back as a theatre practitioner, trainer and performer, I realize why and how theatre helps you, shapes you and defines you.
I taught theatre at a school in India for three years where I was handling sessions for children under the age of 12. In the initial sessions, children would sometimes tend to be shy, sometimes apprehensive and sometimes restless. But slowly through time, you start realising that the activities they are engaging in challenges them differently and children are able to focus their energies towards creative output. Group work for children is a lot about responsibility and team play. In these situations, children develop the ability to listen to one another as opposed to taking instructions from a teacher. This is when they feel they can freely voice their opinions among peers. They end up having conversations and find a new confidence altogether.
From my experience in teaching theatre in schools, I've seen theatre transforming young students, sometimes in a year, sometimes in just a session. Here are five ways in which theatre impacts children and young adults in their growing up years.
Firstly, theatre opens an individual's imagination, making the impossible possible. A room filled up with chairs and tables ends up becoming the Amazon Rain forest. A room of bookshelves becomes a cricket stadium. You become a rock star. Theatre enables you to be anything you imagine yourself to be. All this sounds awesome right?, but here's what it actually does.
While one is thinking of a cricket stadium, they are thinking of the kind of the people in there, the atmosphere, the colours, the sounds and cheers of the environment, the teams at play, the popcorn, the scoreboard and much more. When one is thinking about the scoreboard, one is imagining the size of it, it's colour, the font in which the letters are written, where it's located, how it's changing.. so on and so forth. Apart from enabling imagination, theatre actually facilitates detailed discoveries. In a really short span of time, the mind is trained to process images of such fine detail. This, over time shapes the individuals ability of visualisation, which in turn shapes the way you end up defining and talking about things you see and things you imagine. You also end up looking at the finer details of things in reality, which means theatre trains you to be a better observer. Through theatre training all this ends up being fed into the subconscious, that you end up doing this naturally :-) So, theatre trained individuals develop a very visual way of thinking and this helps them conceptualise quicker and in finer detail.
When children develop this skill early on, they turn out to be far more creative and detailed in things they do and they also find news ways to express themselves.
Second, theatre gives you the possibility of playing with the rules. This means concepts of space, time, distance, gravity and the laws of nature can be pulled, pushed and stretched. This is when the scoreboard is suspended in mid air or is bouncing around the stadium or when it decides to do a quick jig when the ball is hit for a 6 ! Theatre training enables the individual to think differently and when one begins to play with the rules, concepts of real are pushed to create new things and new ways of doing things. This is how creative thought occurs and theatre definitely helps channelise that. This is not to say that those who do not do theatre are not creative. It's just that when one combines this ability with their innate skills, they figure out new ways of doing things.
Children love playing with the rules. Through the training sessions, they always come up with innovative and exciting new ways of doing things. The create new worlds for themselves and exciting situations to put themselves into and end up finding brilliant solutions to them as well.
Thirdly, putting yourself out there. Put simply, this helps you develop the guts and confidence.
When you play out your imagination, using your body, you figure out what you can do and how it is being received. You get more comfortable with your body, how it moves, how it reacts to stimuli and how it responds to different situations. You are able to come in contact with your own body at different energy levels, from a high action state to a state of sloppy behaviour. So, it gives you a "Been there done that" feeling, which automatically steps up your confidence levels about the things you take on.
When children go through these situations regularly, it builds their confidence levels immensely. You will find these children volunteering actively for group work, games, debates and more.
Four, working together. Theatre training sessions expose you to how silly you can be and how the most creative things come out of being silly. The training exposes you to how people think about the same things in a really different way, because their definition of detail is different from yours and the way they choose to play with rules is again very different from what you chose to do. So, you are able to acknowledge that there is no one way and at the same time appreciate the differences and look at how those can be worked on together, to create another outcome altogether.
Children become great team players through this training. They are friendly, welcoming and support one another eagerly. They learn to work together and share their ideas, to create something together
Five, Risk. Theatre prepares you for the unexpected. From actors forgetting a cue, to a prop not being available, to the lights just switching off suddenly, anything can happen, but we play on, taking these occurrences in our stride and using them to our advantage. This helps build spontaneity, which again is because your mind has built the ability to process really quick and coupled with confidence, you are just ready to take on more. Theatre training increases your risk appetite. You become more willing to try out new things and take on new roles. In this process, you end up making newer discoveries.
Children develop the ability of spontaneity. They will develop the skill of coming up with ideas for any situation presented.
It's an amazing feeling to discover something new about yourself, and the more often that happens, the nicer it is. The other advantage of theatre training is that it also helps you to make discoveries about other people,in a way that they never knew existed - A sense of shared discovery, through shared doing.
Wonderful, is it not? Let's keep discovering !
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