BWW Feature: STUDENT PLAYS at Dos Pueblos High School
The high school spring musicals may be looming large in the minds of students and teachers alike, but there's important theatrical training happening during daytime hours in schools throughout Santa Barbara that shouldn't be overlooked. What are the curriculum projects for performance arts classes, and how do they prepare students for a life in the theatre arts (should they pursue it)? More importantly, how do these courses prepare students for everyday life in the adult world?
Clark Sayre, teacher of dramatic arts at Dos Pueblos High School, fosters the creative process in his performance classes with the workshopping of informational skits. Students in these classes experience creating a show, from early conceptualization of narrative, to exploration of theme, and the final translation of ideas into relatable dramatic scenes illustrating the production's thesis. Students in Sayre's theatre classes created and presented these student-written mini-plays to middle school and high school audiences. This process offers dual learning opportunities: seeing performers presenting on topics relevant to the audiences' experience prompts them to consider these pertinent aspects of their lives; it also illustrates how theatrical arts are a conduit of expression for those ideas (and their accompanying emotional responses).
These pieces feature the student point of view, which calls on the students to critically examine and reflect on conflict in their lives. These students recognized problems within youth culture, and built dramatic renderings of situations that clearly define these issues, and offer information for conflict diffusion and resolution. One piece, Cell-fishness, explores the consequences of media oversaturation via smartphone. The scenes feature situations in which the distraction of social media sabotages the students' efforts to achieve their goals. Students offer testimonial statements of their personal experiences of smartphone-based consequences, such as failing eyesight, running into people in the hall, and general detachment from the physical world. For students to truly understand an unhealthy relationship with the online universe, they must first recognize healthy behavior models. The students identified applications, such as research, the immediate availability to connect with people all over the world, and efficient communication as useful ways to responsibly enjoy social media. Media addiction is an increasingly prevalent issue in the young generation, and without learning how to balance real life with online life, the consequences of an obsession with social media will certainly become more dire than the fleeting embarrassment of running into someone in the hallway.
Another class's play, Liars' Club, represents cognitive distortion as a group of "voices" inside the various protagonists' heads. Based on David Burns' The Feeling Good Handbook, this system of mental reorganization teaches critical perception of negative thoughts by identifying them, compartmentalizing them, and choosing not to be shackled by their limited, negative viewpoint. Examples include the tendency to predict events unfolding unfavorably, and falling prey to fear of failure via secession without effort. Another example of cognitive distortion is the inclination to label oneself absolutely by identifying and connecting with shortcomings. Liars' Club scenes feature these "false" voices interacting with performers to show how a self-defeating attitude can disrupt the motivation of even the most successful and well-adjusted people. This series of scenes encourages students to face and explore moments of feeling inadequate, and then turn those experiences into teachable moments within their presentations, which offer useful examination of personal psychologies.
An education in the theatrical arts teaches so much more than basic public speaking. Theatre classes like those at Dos Pueblos High School give students access to a cross-pollination of presentation skills, information recall and processing, creative extrapolation, and the liberating experience of being vulnerable--and experiencing others' vulnerability, in turn. These experiences build character, on stage and off, and bring empathy and commitment to the larger community.
Check out what's coming up next with Dos Pueblos High School's Theater Company: