Extracurricular activities are the bread and butter of young people’s routines. The right extracurriculars can improve grades and overall classroom performance, boost college admissions rates, and teach students valuable and necessary life skills. Time in the day is limited, so choosing the right extracurricular activities is crucial for using yours effectively!
If you or your child are looking for activities to meaningfully fill free time (and have a lot of fun doing it), look no further than the performing arts! Theatre especially is a fantastically diverse program that encourages the growth of many skills and comes pre-packaged with a ton of benefits. Not convinced? Here’s fifteen research-backed reasons theatre is the extracurricular activity of your dreams.
1. Make new Friends
Theatre is a team sport. A show simply cannot be put on without a lot of people involved, both on and off stage. Therefore, there’s no better place for your child to make friends!
Unlike many sports teams which are segregated by age or gender, theatre programs are often very diverse. School theatre programs are typically open to many grade levels, and community programs can be open to adults, teenagers, and children alike. Though this may seem daunting, working with older students can be very beneficial to young kids through peer modeling of social and performance skills. When young children work with older role models, they see what higher standards they should strive to achieve. This can drive them to work harder than they would with peer groups entirely their own age.
Further, theatre is basically manufactured to produce close bonds among participants. Dance and music have been shown to strengthen friendships due to the high level of required cooperation and coordination. And since theatre involves skills students can begin cultivating at any age and continue to cultivate well into adulthood and old age, students will always be able to perform with their friends and make new ones in new places!
2. Learn Communication Skills
Because theatre requires such frequent, high-level cooperation with others, the learning of communication skills is mandatory for all participants. Working in such close quarters with actors, stage hands, and other creatives like the director or stage manager means students must quickly learn to communicate politely and effectively. After all, no director wants to work with a rude actor! Because theatre is a collaborative effort, students will constantly be communicating with each other– the growth of everyday communication skills is inherent.
As I’ve already established, music and dance can build social bonds between students. Theatre is also an incredible way to learn empathy and emotional intelligence because of the immersive nature of performing. Actors not only witness the stories and experiences of others, but put themselves in their shoes and are encouraged to feel their emotions. For instance, a character who is bullied in a show poses a safe opportunity for students to experience what being bullied feels like and explore options for response.
Theatre also naturally is of benefit when it comes to public speaking skills. Of course, every performer must learn to project their voice, and speaking before a classroom or crowd becomes easier once it’s been achieved on stage. Theatre can also make one a more persuasive and powerful speaker. Actors know how to perform in order to make their audiences feel something. They know how to play a role and create an illusion through body language and speech. They are adept at discussing their thoughts and feelings, and using speech and movement to convey ideas. Arguably, theatre is one of the very best methods of training for a career in public speaking!
Finally, theatre can lessen social anxiety and shyness in daily interactions. Given that theatre is a highly creative, collaborative environment, sometimes students are bound to fail or mess up. Rehearsal creates a safe space for students to try, fail, and try again with no harm. The rehearsal process celebrates these failures and even encourages students to fail loudly or extravagantly in order to find what does and doesn’t work in performance. Once discovering that failure is a temporary state and not a lifelong shame, students will be more apt to “put themselves out there” and take social chances.
3. Gain Cultural and Historical Literacy
Theatre is a great way to learn about a number of subjects! History and theatre often go hand-in-hand, as do literature and theatre. Shows like Newsies and Hamilton are accessible to students of any age and can teach students about real events or people from history (as long as they understand that the events of the show are fictitious reenactments and not necessarily perfectly accurate documentation of historical events). Shows like Little Women, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and The Crucible can connect students with classic literature regardless of their reading ability or interest. Productions like Children of Eden, Godspell, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are valuable for teaching students about Christianity and the Bible. Further, many shows simply hold some cultural significance for us– The Wizard of Oz being a prominent example. Involvement in theatre is a fun and efficient way to explore variety of subject areas and become more informed about our society and history as a whole.
4. Connect With the Community
If you are looking for a way to get your child active in the community, look no further than theatre! After all, most performances will be presented to the public, and many theatre programs hold public cabaret performances or “preview” shows at local and community events. Theatre students might even march in parades or sing at private events.
Further, your student can easily step away from their school theatre program to join private performing arts companies or community theatre groups. A school program is like the perfect gateway drug to a host of other activities– for instance, dance or acting classes or voice lessons! These offer your child the chance to expand their social circles well beyond that of their typical school friends and make lasting connections with outside coaches and role models.
Theatre activities also open the door for many volunteer opportunities. It’s not uncommon for alumni of school theatre programs to return to those programs to volunteer. This is a great way to make connections in the community, district, and a potential professional network.
5. Get Physically Active
Rehearsals will have kids on their feet for hours at a time, and dancing will regularly have them breaking a sweat! Dance alone is highly celebrated as a mode of exercise, and boasts a number of health benefits including toning muscle, improving flexibility, conditioning the lungs and heart, and improving balance and coordination. Not only are these exercise experiences highly beneficial– they’re also fun!
Further, when students perform, they use their entire bodies to express themselves. Therefore, not only is the body engaged– students are taught to actively think about movement and their bodies. Performing is a great way to improve bodily and spatial awareness, which can lead to improved posture and self-awareness in general.
6. Learn a Variety of new Skills
Obviously necessary for performing in musical theatre are skills like acting, singing, and dancing. As I’ve already stated, communication skills are also mandatory. Students will also need to learn things like time management and discipline to learn lines and practice solos. Students will learn to monitor their own progress and evaluate their own growth. Students will learn empathy and emotional expression. Dance and music will require the development of rhythm and musicianship skills. Dance especially will build flexibility, bodily awareness, and balance, and there are many types of dance for students to learn through theatre, such as tap, hip hop, and jazz. There are also other ways to participate in theatre: students can play in the pit orchestra and build musical and instrumental skills… or work as stage hands and work on attention to detail and taking direction… or run sound and light boards and learn technological skills… or design and build props, set pieces, and costumes and develop artistry while also learning life skills like carpentry, sewing, and crafting… or use computers to create programs, flyers, and promotional material to learn networking, word processing, graphic design, and advertising… or be a student director, stage manager, or dance captain and learn leadership skills… or… you get the point.
7. Challenge the Mind
Strictly academic activities like book club or STEM club can be difficult to get kids excited for. Do your and your child want an activity that will challenge the mind and develop the brain almost passively while also being a ton of fun? Of course you do! The multifaceted nature of theatre means there are almost endless ways to develop the brain. I’ve just delineated the nearly endless skills one can cultivate through theatre– now let’s talk some of the lasting cognitive effects these can impart!
The effects of music on the brain have been well documented. Participating in music is shown to strengthen the pathways between different areas of the brain, resulting in better memory and cognitive flexibility. Musical training can improve auditory processing skills, which is a valuable skill in most classrooms. Music can also improve language skills!
The process of putting together a show itself, even a non-musical production, is also a bit like vitamins for the brain. Theatre requires thinking in many ways– analytically, logistically, creatively, and collaboratively– often all at the same time! Developing these modes of thinking is of benefit for everyone.
Theatre experiences can also translate directly to the classroom. Rehearsing and performing material requires development of memorization skills and techniques, which can carry over to studying for classes– memorizing lines and memorizing facts for tests aren’t that different! Actors will regularly be asked to analyze their character’s motivations or personality, which mirrors activities often undertaken in literature classrooms. Indeed, performing in theatre has been shown to improve literacy skills across the board. And as I’ve already highlighted, theatre is a great way to develop a background on historical events and classical literature. STEM subjects are thrown into the mix when you consider the possibility for students to participate in technical theatre– using mathematical measurements to build sets or costumes, or technological know-how to program and operate light and sound boards.
If you want to improve your child’s classroom performance, getting them into theatrical performance might just be your best bet.
8. Artistic Outlet
Theatre offers students many potential ways to interact with the arts. Truly, theatre requires the intersection of every art form: language and literary arts, music, visual art and design, and dance are all involved in the staging of a musical. Theatre gives students a chance to experiment with each of these forms of expression, and hone their craft in their favorites.
The benefits of an artistic outlet for students really cannot be overstated— arts foster a growth mindset, improve self confidence, can reduce the strain of stress and anxiety, and can improve cognition. As I noted before, theatre especially is useful for the development of empathy and emotional intelligence. Participation in the arts really is necessary for everyone– theatre provides a wealth of ways to explore!
9. Learn the Value of Teamwork
One of the benefits of enrolling your child in a youth sports program is teaching your child the importance of teamwork. I’ve already said a lot on the collaborative nature of theatre. Theatre, much like a team sport like football or soccer, requires lots of people working together to create a satisfactory result. Theatre however tends to be much more inclusive, welcoming people of many ages, genders, and abilities, and tends to place relatively few restrictions on participation. For instance, many school theatre programs do not cut any students from their productions. Shows can have ensemble sizes of even a hundred actors (though this is perilous at best), whereas a sports team can only ever play so many athletes at a time.
If you’re looking for a team-based activity that isn’t sports-based, theatre is a fantastic option!
10. Learn to Lose with Grace
The reality of theatre is that not every actor can get every role they want. One of the most important things an actor can learn is humility! Indeed, most actors will miss out on roles most of the time, especially in professional circuits. If you want your child to learn how to use failure as a growth opportunity, theatre can and will provide this chance over and over. Being a “sore loser” in regards to casting can result in a poor reputation and difficulty landing other roles in the future, so it’s necessary every actor learn to
If you’re looking for some advice on how you can turn a seemingly negative casting outcome into a positive experience for you child, you can read this post, also from my blog!
11. Improve Self Confidence
When considering the effect of theatre on confidence, many are quick to assume only those with lead roles will see any improvements in self-assuredness. This is far from the truth! Everyone involved in a performance must take responsibility for their part in the show, whether playing a lead role, ensemble role, or participating backstage. By facing down the challenges every performer in a show must encounter, every student can find a sense of achievement, boosting their self-confidence along the way.
Theatre also provides an opportunity for young people to “show off” in front of their peers, family, and community as a whole. Proving one’s abilities on stage is a powerful self-esteem booster!
Theatre is also highly social, so children can find greater comfort with their peer group and make new friends, which can improve self esteem and mood as a whole by proxy.
12. Boost College Applications
It’s well known that the performing arts look great on college applications. Extracurricular arts activities are something admissions counselors look for on applications, because arts activities tend to foster desirable qualities like creative problem solving skills, emotional intelligence, and expressivity. This article has already expressed at length the ways involvement in theatre can be beneficial for a person. Colleges are aware of these benefits and consider them when admitting students!
Besides some of the loftier functions of the arts, like creating sympathetic and sensitive members of society, including arts activities on applications can serve strictly practical purposes, too. Long-term involvement in any sort of activity is attractive on any sort of application! The earlier your child starts getting involved in the performing arts and the longer they keep at it, the more impressive their experiences will appear. Even if they only spend a brief time in an arts activity, it will make them appear more well-rounded.
Theatre can also provide students with leadership experiences that colleges love. Being able to list “student stage manager” or “student director” or “Thespian troupe leader” on an application is a huge boon.
Awards or accolades received from theatrical activities will also look great. Monologue or Shakespeare competition victories and talent show triumphs alike may have a place on college applications, and may give prospective students a leg up on their competition.
13. Valuable Career Prospects
Careers in theatre aren’t as unattainable as you think… especially if students start young.
Pessimists about employment in theatre often think “making it” means a starring role on Broadway. Theatre is far bigger than Broadway! Besides off-Broadway productions in New York and of course of film roles in LA, actors can find considerable employment in a variety of other cities, including Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Pittsburgh, and DC. Every major city in the US has work for professional actors.
Plus, it’s now incredibly common to make money from nontraditional and online sources, meaning it’s easier now than ever to pad admittedly spotty acting income. YouTube, blogging, and e-commerce, among a variety of other options, mean those with the ability to network and market themselves (a very important skill for every actor) can pick up some extra cash and even build relatively stable sources of income even if their “real” job is proving difficult to score.
That’s not even touching off-stage and back-stage work.
Careers in technical theatre are, for the most part, far more available and easier to get into than acting careers. Consider this: a show might run for a few weeks and employ a few actors. That same show might employ double the amount of technical personnel to make the performance happen. A major performance venue will be putting on many shows in and around that aforementioned show, all of which will require their own stage hands. Even a one or two person show will likely require multiple technical theatre personnel, such as lighting and sound people or stage managers. Consider how many major performance venues there are in a big city, including clubs, concert venues, and theatre spaces alike, and how many hands each show requires– the fact is, technical work is always abundant, and unlike acting, it is based purely on merit. It’s also relatively easy to get started in, as all anyone needs is some connections and experience with tools and stage equipment.
There’s also opportunities in teaching! Performers can give private lessons or work through community programs in addition to working in a traditional school setting. These nontraditional avenues might not even require college certifications.
Anyone with some basic skills in directing, lighting, sound, choreography, or stage management can also sometimes pick up some extra cash in community theatre circuits. Though paid acting in community theatre is relatively rare, it’s not uncommon for directors or technical personnel to get small stipends for their productions.
Finally, finding opportunities for acting and technical employment has never been easier than it is now, with the proliferation of online casting calls and Facebook groups dedication to local audition notifications. It’s not a bad time to consider careers in the performing arts!
14. A Place for Everyone
Anyone can participate in theatre, in any way they want.
Of course, everyone is welcome on stage, and there’s a place for everyone in the company of a show. But let’s say a child isn’t really interested in performing on stage– great news! They can help backstage, or build props and paint sets, or play in the pit. If they’re skilled with organization and time management, they might make a good stage manager. If they’re good with tools, they might make a great scenic carpenter.
There really is room for everyone in theatre. Don’t brush it off simply because singing and dancing on stage doesn’t seem like your kid’s thing. They have a lot of options for participation!
15. Joy for a Lifetime
Performance skills last forever. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this article, theatre lovers can continue performing well into adulthood and old age. In fact, many of the most respected theatre celebrities are in their fifties or older!
Though sports programs come with a variety of benefits and can be right for many people, long-term heavy participation can result in long-term attrition (like lasting joint injuries), and many careers will be over by the time a player is in their late 30s. An actor who throws themselves fully into theatre can really only find their opportunities for employment growing with age and experience, unless they use their skills unsafely and sustain injury in that way.
It’s rare for school students to be provided with extracurricular activities they can potentially continue forever. Many academic clubs are moot outside of school campuses, besides perhaps book clubs. Sports players can participate in community leagues or professional circuits, of course, but the realities of aging mean many will find participation difficult in time. Choir and band members will find ensemble opportunities dramatically reduced outside of school. However, nearly everyone can locate a community theatre near them, and anyone of any age can return to performing.
There you have it– theatre is highly accessible, incredibly beneficial in the interim and for the future, and can provide students with lasting life skills and a hobby they can always return to. Want your child to make friends, become more sociable and well-rounded, improve their college admissions chances and learn skills that will stay with them for a lifetime? Look no further than theatre!