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Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?

Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?

BeingAlive44Ever
#1Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 12:20pm

So I've begun to notice something odd. There are swaths and swaths of theatre kids in this generation, whether I've met them online or through my voice coach or through my friends' kids, who seem to not be well versed in theatre history. And, I know, not everybody has to know anything. But I'm talking basic things. Like not knowing who Sondheim is. Not knowing that Broadway was created by Jewish songwriters and African American musicians. Not knowing what the word "operetta" or even the term "musical comedy" means. Like scary stuff that seems like such common sense. So I looked into it. It turns out that most high schools don't have a theatre history class. Even if they have a theatre class, it's more common for them to be based entirely on production than for there to be actual history taught. I personally think that at least a fundamental understanding of the history of theatre, especially the theatre medium in which these kids are performing, ie the American Broadway Musical, is required for productions to... I dunno, work? My friend, who is a school drama director but not a drama teacher, told me that she was frustrated with this as well. She often will make allusions to Fosse or specific musicals when explaining how the actors are supposed to move and most of the kids have no idea what she means. I find it disturbing that these kids are expected to perform without any knowledge of what they're doing. Most high schools have detailed courses on Graphic Design and Welding but not on Theatre History. Is there some reason for this that I'm unaware of, or is this just another case of the arts not being funded properly? 

Jarethan
#2Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 12:29pm

I have always loved the theatre and would have loved a class like this when I was in high school.  That said, I don't see it.  I have heard too many stories about towns eliminating art classes to believe that a theatre history class would get anywhere; it just seems too niche for me.  I also really question how many schools really offer something like welding, although I guess that it is possible that it is a 2020's version of Shop.

 

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TheatreFan4
#3Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 12:30pm

Has any pop culture ever been mandatory education in high school? I remember electives in them, but mandatory classes focused on it? Save it for college honestly.

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darquegk
#4Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 12:33pm

Your average honor student will have read Shakespeare, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams in school. If you’re from Pennsylvania or a  historically black demographic, add August Wilson. That’s better than nothing. 

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Kad
#5Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 12:44pm

In most public schools, there isn't really even a drama class- it's an extracurricular club, or it's spun off of another class like English. It's ultimately more of a niche topic that many people don't see as practical, particularly as STEM has become the dominant focus.

I had the immense privilege to go to a public high school that had a dedicated arts program with a theatre focus (alongside dance, visual arts, music, and classical voice- it was very much like Fame), so I did take classes in theatre history, performance, theatre design, production, etc. But these programs are not terribly widespread and I'm sure there are some states that lack them entirely.


"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."

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Jordan Catalano
#6Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 12:55pm

This is a very odd question. I understand asking why theater history isn’t more integrated into drama classes but asking why theater history isn’t MANDATORY for high schools strikes me as odd. Should high schools also have a mandatory class on the history of Football? The NFL made 18 billion dollars last year and Broadway made under 2  billion, so if history of something specific and significant in American culture MUST be taught in schools that would seem to make more sense. 

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dramamama611
#7Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 1:11pm

What a ridiculous question.  I'm sorry, what purpose would it serve?  Most high schools don't even have an arts requirement.


If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.

BeingAlive44Ever
#8Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 1:16pm

I don't mean a mandatory class for every student, I mean a mandatory class for the school to offer

I think about half of the people replying got that and the other half didn't 

hearthemsing22
#9Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 1:17pm

Maybe as an elective type thing or club, but a mandatory class? As others have said, it's extremely niche and should be something saved for college/higher, more specific education. It's not a basic skill all high school students should be versed in. In some English classes across the board,  I'd be surprised if Shakespeare isn't mandatory, but otherwise I can't see why they'd include much else. Very odd question. 

hearthemsing22
#10Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 1:21pm

BeingAlive44Ever said: "I don't mean a mandatory class for every student, I mean a mandatory class for the school tooffer

I think about half of the people replying got that and the other half didn't
"

I'm not even sure how many people would actually be interested, given how funding for the arts is being cut, isn't it? What would make this different? What would make it exciting? New? 

chrishuyen
#11Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 1:24pm

I agree with what the above are saying as regards to high schoolers, but I'm curious about college drama courses--do they usually mandate a theater history class or is it mostly just on the actual acting/performing aspects of it? 

I think musical theater as an artform hasn't necessarily had a widespread erudite approach either. There are some books about musical theater history and general structure/conventions but they're still relatively new in the scheme of things and due to costs, it can be harder to see live productions of classic shows being put on (another reason I'm a proponent of shows getting filmed but that's another argument). 

BeingAlive44Ever
#12Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 1:25pm

hearthemsing22 said: "BeingAlive44Ever said: "I don't mean a mandatory class for every student, I mean a mandatory class for the school tooffer

I think about half of the people replying got that and the other half didn't
"

I'm not even sure how many people would actually be interested, given how funding for the arts is being cut, isn't it? What would make this different? What would make it exciting? New?
"

Well here's how I look at it. Most schools have some kind of performing arts program. In order for the people in those programs to flourish, I think they need to understand the history of the art they're doing. I feel like most passionate theatre kids would be interested in a theatre history class, and it would benefit their appreciation and understanding greatly. Some people say save it for later, but I think that a preliminary knowledge in high school is important for college. When I was in high school, I took every single AP class I possibly could so that I knew what I was doing in college. Having not even one theatre history class in high school, to me, is odd. Now, when I was in high school, this never occurred to me, because I was the kind of nerd who would actively find books and articles about everything I was interested in, but I know that a majority of people, especially kids, don't wanna do that or can't do that. 

BeingAlive44Ever
#13Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 1:29pm

chrishuyen said: "I agree with what the above are saying as regards to high schoolers, but I'm curious about college drama courses--do they usually mandate a theater history class or is it mostly just on the actual acting/performing aspects of it?

I think musical theater as an artform hasn't necessarily had a widespreaderudite approach either. There are some books about musical theater history and general structure/conventions but they're still relatively new in the scheme of things and due to costs, it can be harder to see live productions of classic shows being put on (another reason I'm a proponent of shows getting filmed but that's another argument).
"

I also agree that shows need to be filmed more often, but I do understand that legal troubles that come with it and how everybody involved basically has to have a different contract in order to allow them to be filmed... But like half of Sondheim's big musicals were filmed so as far as I'm concerned it's not that much harder to film a musical. And I do think that that would contribute to what I'm talking about, oddly enough, even though it seems like another thing entirely. 

You are correct in that it's a relatively new art form, but we have whole comprehensive classes that go over periods of history in the last one hundred and fifty years, which is about how old musical theatre is. 

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uncageg
#14Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 1:36pm

We didn't have Drama Club in school but the Junior and Senior High plays and musicals were a big deal at my Suburban PA high school. 

I was lucky enough to be chosen to be a part of the PYT (Philadelphia Youth Theater) program at Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia in my Senior year of High School. Attendance went toward my graduation credits. (I got out of gym and English because of the dance and writing classes they offered!)  And it was free. You had to audition to get in and 40 out of 4,000 students who applied were chosen that year. It was an amazing program that sadly ended about 10 or so years ago and the Playhouse was demolished to make room for luxury apartments. I went back 30 years after graduating and the owner and one of my teachers, Deen Kogan was there and remembered me. An amazing experience that I will never forget. And I learned a lot. I have often wondered if any other cities have programs like this.


Just give the world Love.

hearthemsing22
#15Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 1:40pm

I understand what you're saying, but at the same time, a lot of people can get into theater in different ways, without a mandatory optional (oxy-moron, isn't it) theater history class. If a high school has an after school program that puts on shows, for example. Some have scenes done for classes, which can be the start of a life long interest in theater for people. There could be school trips (not as often across the board, but they still happen), local productions- all of these kick-start an interest in theater and from there yes, people can do their own research and learn more in depth in college, special performing arts programs that have history courses, schools like Julliard. I believe I understand where you're coming from, but at the same time you're looking at a long road to get anything like this approved by school boards. 

 

I'm not sure how the schools would benefit when the nation already looks down on the arts somewhat, and doesn't place a lot of importance on them. Look at the numbers for The Tony Awards, how Broadway is doing right now, etc. I can't see how it would be beneficial 

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Wick3
#16Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 1:41pm

There are probably documentary videos on youtube those students can watch on their free time to learn more about the history of theater.

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dramamama611
#17Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 2:27pm

You do not seem to be understand what mandatory means. There is no such thing as a mandatory elective choice. Also, many schools have problems keeping electives running... Without  minimum participation. The number of kids that a really care about the history of things is very small. 


If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.

chrishuyen
#18Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 2:47pm

BeingAlive44Ever said: "You are correct in that it's a relatively new art form, but we have whole comprehensive classes that go over periods of history in the last one hundred and fifty years, which is about how old musical theatre is."

Oh I in no way meant that just because it's a newer artform that it shouldn't be studied--much the opposite actually. Like you said there are comprehensive classes that go over much of the changes and development in the 20th century and it seems that there should be much more attention paid to musical theater BECAUSE it has changed/developed so much. And I haven't quite seen as much material talking about that (certainly there's some, but not as much as I would've wanted unless I've been looking in the wrong places). 

Part of it is also that I think musical theater for a long time was considered a "fluff" genre, simply meant to entertain and act as escapism and not something that could tackle serious issues. Of course a lot of that perception has changed now (though a lot of that thinking still surprisingly--to me anyway--pervades) but I wonder if the reason we didn't actually get as much attention to the history and impact is simply for that reason. 

Bringing up AP classes made me wonder if this could be a potential subject for the AP board, though I readily admit I have no clue how a new subject would get added, and of course there's all the logistics of schools needing to provide such class for it to gain enough traction so that it catches on. But we have AP subjects for music theory and studio art and art history so it doesn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility from my point of view (again, I'm sure the process is MUCH more complicated to make it actually happen)

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Kad
#19Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 2:55pm

While I wouldn't be surprised if some college MT programs had specific musical theatre history courses, I believe most college theater programs do require a general theatre history course that covers the entire history of theatre from antiquity to the present. Anything about a specific theatre style or movement would be either an elective or dependent on the major.

Remember, theatre as an artform predates most major religions. Musical theatre is just a tiny and recent portion of it.


"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
Updated On: 6/6/24 at 02:55 PM

hearthemsing22
#20Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 2:56pm

chrishuyen said: "BeingAlive44Ever said: "You are correct in that it's a relatively new art form, but we have whole comprehensive classes that go over periods of history in the last one hundred and fifty years, which is about how old musical theatre is."

Oh I in no way meant that just because it's a newer artform that it shouldn't be studied--much the opposite actually. Like you said there are comprehensive classes that go over much of the changes and development in the 20th century and it seems that there should be much more attention paid to musical theater BECAUSE it has changed/developed so much. And I haven't quite seen as much material talking about that (certainly there's some, but not as much as I would've wanted unless I've been looking in the wrong places).

Part of it is also that I think musical theater for a long time was considered a "fluff" genre, simply meant to entertain and act as escapism and not something that could tackle serious issues. Of course a lot of that perception has changed now (though a lot of that thinking still surprisingly--to me anyway--pervades) but I wonder if the reason we didn't actually get as much attention to the history and impact is simply for that reason.

Bringing up AP classes made me wonder if this could be a potential subject for the AP board, though I readily admit I have no clue how a new subject would get added, and of course there's all the logistics of schools needing to provide such class for it to gain enough traction so that it catches on. But we have AP subjects for music theory and studio art and art history so it doesn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility from my point of view (again, I'msure the process is MUCH more complicated to make it actually happen)
"

The process, the lack of importance placed on Theater as opposed to general Art...there are many different factors as to why a school board would not prioritize this type of class 

jagman106
#21Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 3:05pm

When I was in  high school, we had a pretty strong arts program with many different courses focusing on the various arts. None of this courses were mandatory; they were all offered as electives. The arts aren't considered core courses of, discipline. I took a Theater Arts course that included a theater history component. I took a course in Contemporary American Drama that focused on the classic playwrights (Williams, O'Neill, Miller, Albee, etc.). In senior year, as part of an elective for my English class requirement, I took Survey of British Drama (Sheridan, Osbourne, Stoppard). We also read Romeo and Juliet in 8th grade, Julius Caesar (9th grade), MacBeth (11th grade), and Hamlet (12th grade) as part of the English curriculum, which were the only mandated theater readings. Being in northern NJ, our accessibility to NYC allowed for many field trips to see theater, especially if those trips supported what we were learning in classes. However, these classes attracted a very small percentage of the student population as students had a wide variety of interests, and not every student had an interest in theater, or the arts for that matter. Mandatory courses are required because they contribute to one's ability to function independently as an adult. Electives are typically offered to compliment one's special interest. There were many electives that I had no interest in, and if I was mandated to take them, I probably wouldn't have been very happy.

perfectliar
#22Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 3:05pm

There are schools that don't even teach the Holocaust and you wanna know why they aren't using Finishing the Hat as a textbook?

BeingAlive44Ever
#23Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 3:07pm

chrishuyen said: "Bringing up AP classes made me wonder if this could be a potential subject for the AP board, though I readily admit I have no clue how a new subject would get added, and of course there's all the logistics of schools needing to provide such class for it to gain enough traction so that it catches on. But we have AP subjects for music theory and studio art and art history so it doesn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility from my point of view (again, I'msure the process is MUCH more complicated to make it actually happen)"

Well this is a nice idea but what you have to remember is that, for example, AP Studio Art is only offered at schools that already have an art pathway. An AP Theatre History class would only really make sense in a school that already offered theatre history classes, which just brings us right directly back to where we were. Somebody else made a great point (immediately preceded by a not as good point)... 

dramamama611 said: "You do not seem to be understand what mandatory means. There is no such thing as a mandatory elective choice. Also, many schools have problems keeping electives running... Without  minimum participation. The number of kids that a really care about the history of things is very small."

The way I worded my title is confusing. I thought it'd make sense because I said "for high schools", as in for schools (like as in the individual building, the schoolboard, etc) to be required to have such a class. It seems like people have read this as either "high schoolers," meaning all kids in high school, or "high school," meaning the time period of high school, should require theatre history. I acknowledge that I was unclear in exactly what I meant, but I do not think the phrasing is technically wrong. I did not say mandatory for students. I said mandatory for high schools. I know what mandatory means. 

Now to that great point you made: 
A lot of electives already have minimum or near minimum participation, and something as niche as a theatre history class may indeed be pointless to wish upon public schools. However, this makes me consider another thought: what if theatre classes had more regulations on their curriculum, akin to an academic classes? There are certain books-- like Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men-- that everybody has to read in high school. There should be certain plays and people that every drama student has a reasonable level of familiarity with by the time they get through high school. I'm not proposing completely regulating what the schools are allowed to teach, I only mean a little clause that includes some things that are incredibly important to the medium and how it came to be (eg. Wagnerian leitmotifs, Gilbert and Sullivan, early musical theatre, Ethel Merman changing how people sing, Rodgers and Hammerstein, the Pulitzer prize winning musicals and other such shows that have changed the art form) 

I find everybody's perspective on this valuable, not that I'd ever have the guts to propose such a thing directly to whatever department makes these kinds of bills, but it is still something I think is important. 

 

BeingAlive44Ever
#24Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 3:08pm

perfectliar said: "There are schools that don't even teach the Holocaust and you wanna know why they aren't using Finishing the Hat as a textbook?"

There are schools that don't teach the Holocaust? ... Well, that is definitely a more immediate issue, but somehow maybe beyond the scope of my BroadwayWorld forum ponderings. When I was in high school, Finishing the Hat was more like my Holy Bible. 

Alex Kulak2
#25Why Aren't Theatre History Classes Mandatory for High Schools?
Posted: 6/6/24 at 3:09pm

Making something Mandatory isn't always the best way to get kids to retain it.

Calculus was mandatory in my high school, and I couldn't do calculus today if you put a gun to my head.

Theatre History was not mandatory, and I can recite more facts about theatre history than anyone I know.


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