What does watching a live theatre or puppet show do for you or your child? Well, you might be surprised to find out that these ancient art forms are actually good for your brain. Maybe you should go and see theatre.
Studies show that students who experience live theatre are better at reading, vocabulary and have increased tolerance, more so than if they had just read or watched a book or movie version of the same story. Not only is live theatre a great tool for learning academic skills, it also helps with social skills and general acceptance of their peers.
Through this study, researchers were able to analyze over 300 students who saw a live play, and compare them to their peers in a control group. This group only read or watched a movie version of the same story. The test subjects who saw the live performance, not only had a higher understanding of the plot and characters, but also scored higher on a Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) and other tests of tolerance. RMET captures the ability to asses how someone is feeling through only their eyes, and the results were 21% more accurate for those who saw the live theatre show. These results were collected 47 days after the students saw the performance. Theatre has the potential to have long lasting positive effects on it’s audience.
Puppetry also has its benefits; many studies show the positive impact of using puppetry on language development in children. However, in a 2019 study that took place in Iran showed that puppetry in preschool classrooms significantly reduced children’s behavioural problems. After seven one hours sessions with puppets that enacted disagreements between children through songs, behaviours improved significantly compared to a separate control group that was simply told stories about these same common conflicts.
Theatre and puppetry help people to develop all sorts of skills, both when they are participating in a shown, and when they are watching an engaging performance.
Here are a few of those skills:
- Self- Confidence: People of all ages can build their confidence by participating in a play, or volunteering at a local professional theatre. Trying new things, and finding others who enjoy something you like can build that feeling of self-confidence and belonging, which theatre does very well.
- Imagination: By simply reading a play, it is possible to encourage your imagination to expand and explore something new. In this day and age where we can simply google any solution to any problem, or any answers to any questions, it’s important to continue working our imagination, and allowing our brains to be creative, and come up with new ideas.
- Empathy and Tolerance: As I mentioned before, theatre actually increases your empathy and tolerance for others. These days things seem to get more and more tense, and theatre can remind us that all people are deserving of respect, no matter who they are. It also actually increases people’s capacity to recognize what other people are feeling, pushing us to look outside of ourselves, pretty neat.
- Cooperation and Collaboration: This skill is something that is essential to theatre, and that is easily developed by working as a team towards a shared goal of putting on a play. Not only is there team work involved in the actually creative process of making a play, but there is collaboration in all aspects; marketing, ticket sales, building, moving the set pieces, volunteering, getting all audience members into their seats on time, etc.
- Concentration: In the era where we watch television while scrolling on our phones, it’s crucial to have moments to practice focusing and intentional concentration on a certain task or idea. Theatre does that, in performers, by demanding that they remain focused and alert during their time on stage, as well as in audience members, with phones off and put away, to simply be with the story that is unfolding in front of them, or participate in any way that is asked of them by the play.
- Communication skills: This is a big one, lots of research points to how much theatre can actually help people learning a new language to significantly improve their skills in that language. In young children, it can actually improve their behaviour (more on that later). Not only does it work on verbal communication, but it can also help people learn new vocabulary, and develop non-verbal communication skills.
- Problem solving: As I mentioned before, it’s too easy these days to look up anything on the internet, and find solutions to your problems at the tip of your fingers. In theatre, when we are working on a piece, or when an audience member is watching a play, they do not get the opportunity to google the ending, or find a way out of the problem that the character is facing.
- Trust: There is lots of risk taking in theatre, and that is one way to actually build trust within a group or a community. From improvising with a stranger, and trusting that they will build a great scene with you, or from making a complete fool of yourself during a theatre game, and laughing with the rest of the group, who know that they could just as well have made the same mistakes as you, trust can grow from these experiences.
- Memory: Since we carry around portable computers in our pockets, it is very easy to stop relying on memory for important facts and dates. This means that theatre can help us work on our memory muscles, especially for people who are participating in a play since they will be repeating the same scenes and actions over and over to memorize them. It’s actually a crucial skill for an actor to be able to memorize quickly. Think memorizing a page of text in less than 1 hour. Can you do that?
- Social Awareness: Theatre is an important historical tradition that has been the main method of passing down stories to future generations for thousands of years around the world. Myth, legend, religion, all of these have used theatre to pass down the important tales. Theatre is a great way to peek into another culture, or to learn about a different religion.
- Aesthetic Appreciation: Theatre is this unique form of art that not only requires physical and vocal skills from the performers, but also incorporates visual art as well, through costume and set. The placement of each actor and object on stage at each moment becomes a visual art piece, that features composition elements that are used in painting or photography. Seeing more theatre, and participating in theatre can increase your appreciation and understanding of certain aesthetics.
- Fun: Let’s be honest theatre is fun. Sitting down to watch a play, and being entertained for 90-100 minutes is fun. Getting up on stage is not everyone’s idea of fun, but I guarantee that if you are not interested in being in the spot light, there is some part of theatre that will interest you, even just to learn more about. There is writing, designing, building, sewing, painting, ticket sales, ushering (or showing people to their seat).
Theatre reminds us that we are not alone, and connects us both to the actors on stage as well as the audience members sitting around us. Puppetry allows us to reduce our stress and find joy in surreal moments, highlighted to us by the art form. These activities encourage discourse and tough conversations to happen with increased empathy and acceptance. It is clear that the effects of theatre and puppetry on children is significant. I can only imagine that these effects also apply to the adults who are also in the room. Time to go and see theatre!