(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

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The ability to transform one’s self into another character is one of the joys of performing on stage. Many accomplished stage and screen professionals get their first taste of this experience in school.

Drama and theater clubs proliferate throughout all grades of California’s public school system, creating a heightened sense of school spirit and providing countless children with the experience of performing, set designing and interpreting fine works from Shakespeare to Scorsese. Of the children participating, some will ultimately find fame. Others will gain confidence, self-esteem and the joy that comes from being applauded by friends and family.

Using the Stage as a Teaching Tool

The Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards for California’s Public Schools includes a commitment for the inclusion of theater in the schools. Stated goals within the Standards are broken down from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and include these common areas:

  • Artistic Perception
  • Creative Expression
  • Historical and Cultural Context
  • Aesthetic Valuing
  • Connections, Relationships and Applications

This broad-based approach is crystallized for each age group, independent of tangibles like talent or self-confidence. Special supports are also provided in some schools for children who are learning how to speak English as their second language.

Children are taught, in age-appropriate ways, how to master and enjoy storytelling through a performance-centric lens. Young children are taught appropriate audience behavior as well as the language of the theater and the ability to create and invent through fantasy play. As they get older, students are supported to master theatrical elements, such as the five W’s (who, what, where, when and why) within a theatrical context. Budding professionals are provided the tools to hone their skills in acting, directing, set design and script writing across multiple platforms including live performance, electronic media and film.

Drama in Action

Schools throughout California have embraced the Standards, enhancing their current theater programs or adding them as extra-curricular activities. Among these is Burlingame High School in the San Mateo Union High School District. Burlingame’s drama students typically tackle one dramatic play and one musical per year. These have included “Into the Woods,” “Chicago” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

One notable alumni, Dianna Agron, went on to play Quinn Fabray in television show “Glee.”

“The Sound of Music” was heard at the middle school level in Foster City, when Bowditch Middle School’s Drama/Glee Club took on the production to rave reviews, including accolades for costume design and execution.

The littlest performers will be on hand and are predicted to steal the show in San Ramon when Coyote Creek Elementary School takes to the stage this spring with their production of “Peter Pan.” Past performances include school variations of “Annie” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Performing takes courage. For kids who get up on that stage, the risks are high but so are the rewards. Learning how to access inner strength and courage are skills applicable throughout every career choice imaginable. Drama on the stage helps children avoid it in life, by providing a safe environment through which they can explore their untapped potential and acquire self-worth and knowledge. It also provides a backdrop through which students and teachers can work together towards an end result, and folds in community and family while providing a wonderful, fun and uplifting experience.

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.