How theater helps with public speaking and other life skills

By Nora Heston Tarte
Before enrolling in theater, Billy Deihl was a shy kid who lacked a lot of self-confidence. He had very little performance experience but he loved to sing. During middle school that passion took him to Art & Sol Performing Arts Program in Phoenix.

In Deihl’s first role at Art & Sol he was cast as a lead–Roger, King of the Mooners–in the company’s production of Grease. Diehl, who says his favorite theater memory is transitioning from a stern and angry Daddy Warbucks into a caring and dynamic character in Art & Sol’s production of Annie Jr., credits his first role for his continued interest in theater.

“It was a wonderful experience and really sparked my love of theater…I’ve participated in many Art & Sol productions since then, and I’ve loved every one of them,” he says.
“His craft for performing truly sky-rocketed after building more confidence after each show,” says Renee Werkheiser, owner of Art & Sol Performing Arts Program.

Through Deihl’s subsequent roles over the past 4.5 years, he says he has become more confident. He is now a sophomore in high school and continues to participate in theater shows at Valley Youth Theatre (VYT).

“Theater taught me how to be more confident in myself and I’ve used this skill to better my interactions in social settings and situations,” he says. “It also taught me the necessary skills to be a productive member of society by teaching me responsibility and exposing me to a new situation every show.”

Theater Enhances Public Speaking Skills

Another skill Deihl learned through theater? Public speaking. A lot of people use the word “confidence” in the theater community, crediting performing with making them a self-assured individual, but what many don’t consider are the tangible skills that come from that newfound confidence. Public speaking is one of those skills.

“Theater has taught me how to efficiently project my voice and my ideas when speaking in front of other people, as well as making public speaking situations less stressful,” Diehl says.
Lauren Antioco, director of education at VYT, says teachers at the theater company help students enhance their public speaking skills by working with them on pronunciation, volume, voice inflection and conveying emotions through speech, facial expressions, body language, eye contact and hand gestures. All of these practices help students emote their story to an audience.

Catherine Blanco, who started participating in theater in high school, is now a mother of two with a third on the way. She credits her theater experiences at VYT with shaping her into the person she is today, making her more comfortable in her own skin. “Theater helped me overcome my shyness and not be afraid to speak to others one-on-one and in groups,” she says.

Other Benefits of Theater

Blanco says theater let her be playful and taught her that her creativity doesn’t have to diminish as she ages, a lesson she has carried into motherhood.

According to Antioco, many of the skills children learn in theater make them better students, as well. “Participating in the performing arts requires discipline and focus to succeed, but when the hard work is done, the results are extremely rewarding and fun,” she explains. “Besides being creative, which can help with problem solving and writing skills, theater forces the brain to multitask.

The actor must memorize lines and movement all at the same time, while understanding what is going to come next and honestly portraying the characters emotions and story. This teaches a student to use their entire brain all at once, which can really enhance how they approach learning in a school setting.”

Additionally, she says the ability to emotionally connect to the material helps students retain what they are learning on a deeper level.

Why Theater?

Those who have participated in theater are proponents of the benefits it reaps for children.
Blanco has already passed her love of theater down to her daughters, ages 3 and 4. “They just started taking their first musical theater class and they love it because they can express themselves through singing, dancing and acting,” she says. “I recommend that parents enroll their children into theater classes because [it] helps children to be free to explore, express themselves creatively and improve their verbal and non-verbal communication skills.”
Theater isn’t just for the shy kid, either. Antioco says it can be for everybody, potentially helping an overly excited student focus their thoughts to become a more successful student or help a child who has never thought outside the box to create abstract ideas. “Theater can have an impact that may be hard to predict so I think it is worth trying at some point in every student’s life,” she says.

 

Theater’s Other Benefits
By Karen Rolston

One of the most important things I feel kids learn is commitment and dedication to a ‘job’. Youth involved in theater need to be organized as they have schedules to keep and deadlines that need to be met. They learn responsibility by making sure their family obligations are kept and homework is done, their part in the play is mastered and come to know that people rely on then to do their part. Kids that can do this will be successful in whatever they decide to do with their lives.

Social rewards are great in theater. Kids form long lasting friendships and relationships and grow socially as they spend many hours working closely with a group of their peers for the same goal of putting on a theatrical production. They gain knowledge about who they are and what they can do, and a better understanding of other people. This experience is unique to theater.
Theater jump starts the imagination by letting kids make creative choices, thinking of new ideas, and interpreting familiar material in new ways. And as Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Theater teaches cooperation and collaboration, an important skill to have, as youth become a part of society, for theater truly takes many people doing their part to successfully put on a play.

Being involved in theater improves concentration and focus, a skill that will serve kids well through life in anything they do.
Kids involved in theater learn problem solving skills and quick thinking skills like improvisation.

Statistics show that young people involved in the arts have greater success in school, score higher on standardized tests and are more likely to stay in school.

Karen Rolston is the artistic director at East Valley Children’s Theatre (EVCT).

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