There is a lot of talk about process and product when we plan theatre/drama activities for young people. I’ve always aligned myself with the “process” way of thinking – in that I strongly feel that a focus on the process of creation and exploration is far more important than putting young people onstage, under bright lights, and in pretty costumes. Being product-oriented is focusing more on putting young people into a show and selling tickets to an audience; there is a product to view. This approach definitely brings in much more money for the theatre and often gives that immediate gratification of wanting to be in a show! Though I have often witnessed young people being turned off from the art of theatre by being placed in such a high stakes situation too soon.
What benefits does the “process” approach provide? Through the process of theatre/drama activities young people are able to gain confidence in their ideas and their voice, they are able to hone their skills for the stage, as well as for social interaction in life, and they are able to develop bonds through participating in an artistic experience with others in a low stress environment. It is clear that I wax poetic about the benefits of being process-oriented. This is a topic that I spend a great deal of my time thinking about as a teaching artist and as a Director of Education for a small community theatre.
One compromise to this process vs. product debate that goes on between theatre educators and theatre administrators (sometimes in our own heads!) is the creation of the “Shareformance” or “Sharentation”. These are low-key performances in front of family/friends at the end of a class/camp in which the young people are able to show what they have learned/what they have been working on. This could be sharing improvisation games that have been learned, sharing a devised scene, monologues, presenting a story drama, and more. In essence, this approach allows the classes/camps to focus on the process of developing little artists creativity while still giving parents a product to view at the end. I think that this is a wonderful compromise, however, I still find that there is intense pressure from parents and administration (who want to bring in more money) for full productions.
Why do parents in the USA feel that a class in theatre is insufficient without a full-scale production attached? How are we as a culture consuming and framing theatrical experiences? I worked in Ireland for a year with the National Performing Arts School in Dublin, a company that has ONE full-scale production every other year, with only TWO performances. I couldn’t believe it! Here is a place and a culture that sends their young people to this performing arts school to take classes in acting, musical theatre, singing, dancing, songwriting, and film production with no expectation of seeing a “product” at the end of each 10 week session. This is a place that is completely packed every Saturday from sun up to sun down with young people who are enthusiastic, happy, and growing in the arts for the benefit of becoming better citizens! It is a magical place where there is no constant pressure of putting up a finished product every few months, which allows for experimentation, perfecting skills, and creating a fun, supportive community through the arts. Parents are happy seeing the product that this kind of performing arts education creates; confident, happy, socially aware individuals with a passion for the arts. They see this each and every week when they interact with their children, constantly evolving and growing over time.
We still have much to learn about fostering a culture that appreciates the arts and arts education in this way. We are still a young country compared to our European counterparts, but we need to look to our next steps in developing our participants and audiences. How do we begin? Is the creation of the “shareformance”/”sharentation” beneficial or not? How do we navigate this path and maintain/gain financial stability? While this author does not have solid answers to these questions, there is the hope that If enough teaching artists and administrators join the conversation we will continue making strides in the direction of high quality theatre education for all.