What is the number one social issue for students across Australia? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics landmark CensusAtSchool survey, reducing bullying in schools . So how can theatre help students deal with the far-reaching and negative effects of bullying and violence?
Storytelling, drama, humour, role playing and music have been used since the beginning of time to educate and engage. The use of theatre in education can help unite children in a shared experience and is a great springboard for opening up discussion and assisting with social change; be it bullying, dealing with peer pressure or the consequences of risky behaviour including binge drinking and violence. Research and evaluation have revealed that the ‘overwhelming majority of students demonstrate enjoyment and enthusiasm through watching educational theatre, are receptive and listen attentively, and can correctly identify the educational messages being portrayed’. In this way, theatre gives strong and emotional lessons to kids, whilst entertaining them. Everybody wins.
Children also learn in different ways and educational theatre can have a profound effect on some children when they see a familiar scenario being played out with clear solutions and skills that they can practice in their own lives. Students come to the realisation that they are not alone and their feelings are validated through the characters on stage. They see the characters demonstrate perseverance and resilience and that gives hope to any child who may be struggling with similar issues. This is incredibly important when trying to tackle bullying, cyberbullying and violence, not only for the victims but, also, for the bullies themselves. For children that are bullying, they can see and feel how their negative behaviour is affecting their victim and also learn alternative behavioural patterns which can help them change these anti-social, destructive and unacceptable behaviours.
In August 2014, the Festival of Theatres for Young Audiences explored how theatre can contribute to the lives of children. The International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People found that theatre can:
1. Provide a greater understanding of the human condition
2. Give children the tools to defend or challenge reality, learning to think through their emotions – feeling first and then thinking
3. Present strong issues and situations on stage through abstraction and emotion as well as through content
4. Enable a shared experience and connection with ideas
5. Point to injustice or inequity and deal with emotion and feeling
6. Offer intangible, lasting benefits to audiences .
In this way, theatre in schools can have a significant role in helping students as they face many of life’s challenges. There is a certain magic that only live theatre can create which reaches out and grabs onto all kids; regardless of age, gender, background and religion. And, of course, theatre is a great FUN way to learn too!
– Written by Jenny Johnson, Brainstorm Productions, http://brainstormproductions.edu.au
About Brainstorm Productions:
Brainstorm Productions is Australia’s largest in-school touring theatre company, performing to over 350,000 primary and high school students every year. Established in 1983, Brainstorm Productions tours over 1,700 shows annually that tackle a range of issues affecting Australian students including bullying, cyber bullying, violence, under-age drinking, depression, eating disorders, family separation and discrimination.
 Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics CensusAtSchool – Australia 2013. Available from <http://www.abs.gov.au/censusatschool>.
 Source: The use of Theatre in Education (TIE): A review of the evidence. Prepared by Child Health Promotion Research Centre Edith Cowan University for the Constable Care Child Safety Foundation – March 2012
 Source: International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People. Available from < http://www.assitej-international.org/>.