How theatre education can save the world | Rachel Harry | TEDxMtHood



when you meet someone for the first time you ask them their name hello my name is Rachel Harry and invariably without fail the second thing you ask is what what do you do very good what do I do I I do theater what does that mean I do theater well I teach I write scripts I direct plays musicals I create performance art I do a lot of design work my furniture can be seen on stage my children and my dogs have been incorporated into some of my productions my son many years ago provided the recorded voice of a wailing infants Helen Keller stricken with scarlet fever for my production of The Miracle Worker and sometimes from time to time I can be seen performing on stage which is actually the original reason why I became enthralled in this artform as a six-year-old you see I'm the youngest of a large family right you can guess I found that dance and acting were terrific ways to get a little attention and contrary to what my siblings will tell you I was not showing off I was performing this is my life and this is my world I learned how to be human in the theatre my first kiss was a stage kiss alright my first three kisses were stage kisses I learned how to view the world by reading plays I learned about life by doing theater and my students will tell you when asked over the years what they learned in my classes that they learned more than just theater pedagogy they learned about life life lessons and this is important to me in fact it's probably the most important reason why I teach theater you see when I find that when I teach theater concepts I'm also teaching how to cope with a life now this is of immense value to my students it's also of immense value to the world you see what we learn in theater is a terrific way to interact with a very diverse world now you might wonder what does this woman teacher in her classes well I'm gonna give you some concepts of theater when I talk to my peers about diversity in theater they all nod yes yes theater includes people of all kinds ethnicity sexual orientation and that's true but I'm referring to something else theater teaches one to communicate to diverse to create to communicate to diverse skills sets of thinking skills there we go I know I get that out you see theater is the only art that actively collaborates with all the other art forms theater needs visual arts it needs music it needs dance it needs the written word and the artists from all these genres they think differently but there's more theater also depends on science and technology to promote or to produce its productions to create a play requires not only a diverse set of population but a diverse set of thinking communication skills you see a theater program draws on students from all programs all departments in a school and each is recognized and respected for what they bring to the table I have a wonderful story of collaboration between these different thinking skills my stage manager decided last fall that I needed snow to fall from the ceiling in the final scene of the first act of the musical so I described to her how a professional theatre with fly space and rigging such as New York City creates the snow for their productions of Nutcracker now my stage manager is also a dancer and a member as well of our acclaimed robotics team she is incredibly skilled at communicating with both artists and scientists she collaborated with my lighting designer who is also a member of the robotics team and using their familiarity with our agricultural base devised a 35 foot long snow machine made of PVC irrigation pipe multiple drilled holes a very elegant rigging system and of course the obligatory duct tape to teach this I actively teach this by using a process in in how we would critique student scene performance my student critique errs are only allowed to say this works keep it this works this or this does not work how can we make this stronger and as a class we brainstorm ways to help strengthen that scene we consider what works for us and then we modify that to fit the individual onstage embracing diversity requires just that the ability to acknowledge and accept the strengths and weaknesses of others without judgment and to accept the strengths and weaknesses within ourselves what if all the countries of the world could acknowledge and accept both these attributes and then collaborate to help strengthen each other theater teaches a student to develops one's own voice over the course of development of the human being there evolves a desire to fit in to belong and this desire is so strong we're willing to subjugate our own feelings our own needs our own thoughts so we can conform in class when we're working on acting or improvisational skills we actually have exercises that promote original thought we practice games that help us to stop listen to our instincts not judge them but allow them out there's an actor's term called flash now flash occurs when you're on stage listening to someone and if you're really listening to someone a recognition a realization a flash of an idea will pop into your head we learn to listen to those thoughts because they are important they are your own and they have a value in an improv scene an actor will have these responses occur to her and instead of shutting them down or stifling them she learns to give those thoughts of voice and often these are the best lines the audience responds to them because they are honest in class we work on enhancing our creativity through just these kinds of exercises and we learn to enhance our creativity by simply freeing up the student's imagination what if a country specifically trained its citizens to enhance their creativity to solve problems and to have courage and confidence in their own voice to speak up when the need arises last concept finding a character demands empathy now in class I work on providing tools for the students to develop an honest character on stage you see when an actor is cast they're given a script and all it contains is the dialogue of a story and they must explore that character by creating a backstory or history that motivates the character to say and act as they do as an actor I use the backstory to inform my mood and that's how I might deliver a line I must seek out similarities between myself and that character and then contemplate how I might respond in those same situations I must also seek out the divert the differences between myself and that character and ponder what were the forces that caused those differences to find the motivation of a character I have to define the reasons for her actions and to teach this I ask my students to make observations of others close observations but not to judge to learn I ask them to initiate a conversation with someone who might have similar qualities to the character they're studying or perhaps maybe even emulate some of the aspects of that lifestyle Dustin Hoffman is famous for dressing as a woman and living as a woman in New York City to create his celebrated character of Tootsie he said he wished he to explore this character as a much younger man he said he missed out on meeting so many interesting wonderful women because he didn't know how to truly value a woman until he had lived as one what could happen in a country what could happen in our country if we were taught actively taught to truly empathize with others now I've had the joy of spending many years a lot of years working with a large group of teenagers from the ages of 14 and 18 and we have spent classes working on lessons to help them learn how to view others without judging to develop diverse communication strategies to enhance their character or creativity and their character and to to truly understand and have confidence in their own voice and this is all falls under the aspect or the title of teaching theater we have spent countless hours exploring the lives of people both fictional and true now you're going to if you are familiar with this production you're going to go she uses a lot of pictures from a musical called catch me if you can that one and it's true and I chose this musical because it's an excellent example that expresses the ideas I'm trying to convey to you today on the surface this is a fast-paced glittery Vegas style production of high kicks and jazz hands it's also the true story of Frank Abagnale jr. his parents and a detective named Hanratty a very smart detective on the surface we see a criminal who bilked thousands out of more than a million 1960s dollars before he reached the age of 21 but as we explore the character more deeply we see a young man reeling from the breakup of his family and the tragic demise of a father whom he idolized and as we explore this character scene by scene we we see the motivations and so we understand and we also see a detective who understands that he's not chasing a hardened criminal but rather a very troubled very bright young man and his compassion and ability to see past those actions was discussed in many a rehearsal now the real Frank abigail junior sent us some emails and a letter which my music director has framed in his office that was exciting and he talked about that compassion and empathy that detective had for him and that Detective ultimately became in real life his mentor and best friend now all this happened in a theater program in a small rural High School in a community that understands and supports a full four-year theater program taught by a teacher with a master's degree in theater and I tell you this because it is rare and I firmly believe we need to change that fact you see less than half of all secondary public schools have any kind of a theater class in their programs and of that 45 percent 12 percent only 12 have a full four-year program now most high schools offer an after-school production and this is terrific but again realize only half of those productions are taught by someone who is a certified art specialist in theater if we look at these statistics you're going to see well first let me tell you I don't want to cash aid on music and visual arts because remember I collaborate with them we need them but you're going to see that music and visual arts garner far more respect than theater now is this important what depends on what you want if you want students to simply have an experience performing on stage then this is enough because honestly theater can happen anywhere and it can be done pretty well but but if you want students to learn the skills to mount a quality production if you want students to become better world citizens in any career they choose well then you need a strong theatre program taught by a qualified instructor Theatre needs to take the stage as the important art form in public education that it truly is thank you [Applause]

12 thoughts on “How theatre education can save the world | Rachel Harry | TEDxMtHood”

  1. We need people more just like you mam. I love your speech .but the surrounding we are living is amazing. Love you Mam.

  2. Amen! Loved this. The theater is truly the answer. It's a place where people grow, change and become better people.

  3. This talk is EVERYTHING! Theater and dance arts like music and art cultivates creative thinking, innovation, understanding and deeper human connection in a conflicted world.

  4. This is a terriffic talk, I feel like the format didn't help her at all. She would have done better a bit more relaxed and personal. I'd love to see her classroom work.

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