- Signs of Change: New Directions in Theatre Educationby Joan Lazarus, and: Artistic Literacy: Theatre Studies and a Contemporary Liberal Educationby Nancy Kindelan
Theatre educators tend to be passionate, idealistic, and mission-driven lovers of theatre who strive to change our conflict-ridden and partisan-divided world, if only one student at a time. In their respective texts, Joan Lazarus and Nancy Kindelan encapsulate the passions of their lifelong careers in theatre education by calling upon us to take dramatic actions that may effect social change. In the midst of debates over educational reforms, both authors champion theatre as a means of fixing democracy by inducing socially responsible citizenship within local communities.
In Signs of Change: New Directions in Theatre Education, Lazarus substantially amplifies an already mold-breaking 2004 text that appraises the very best practices for theatre by and with young people, grades K–12. Knowing full well that she cannot necessarily change “the whole world,” she seeks to change herself (and her readers) by questioning “what is, what could be, and what ought to be” for more progressive outcomes of theatre education that move beyond industrial-age paradigms of producing assembly-line plays irrelevant to students’ lives. Based on her extensive surveys, observations, and collaborations with more than 225 educators, she investigates alternative paradigms combining a consideration of the pioneering voices from the field with closer looks inside classrooms and rehearsal spaces on the emerging frontier of change. Rather than prescribe “how-to” lesson plans, Lazarus offers compelling exemplars of best practices from other change-seekers who care deeply about impacting students’ lives. Each cogently written chapter gives courage to both novice and master teachers by inviting us to reflect upon our current programs with multiple sets of provocatively worded questions, stimulating ideas for further reflection, and selected resources to inspire pedagogical changes.
In chapter 1, Lazarus establishes what is “a pretty bleak view” of theatre education where, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, less than half of all secondary schools and a tiny minority of elementary schools mandate theatre as a subject. As high-stakes testing erodes arts instruction with escalating budget cuts, particularly in low-income schools, too few states offer teacher certifications in K–12 theatre, unlike the visual arts and music. Nevertheless, Lazarus offers hope in three subsequent chapters by synthesizing the interdependent characteristics of learner-centered, socially responsible, and comprehensive practices. With her steadfast focus on teaching studentsmore than teaching theatre per se, she valorizes learner-centered approaches in which students initiate and devise performative projects based on social conflicts of greatest concern to them and share artistic decision-making collaboratively with teacher-directors in more equitably balanced relationships. Learner-centered teachers facilitate students’ creative choices using Spolin’s organically derived techniques, Heathcote’s [End Page 223]“mantle of the expert,” and other applied theatre methods that place theatrical forms in service to the connected content of students’ lived experiences. Lazarus argues quite rightly that the extra labor-intensive time spent on rehearsals in learner-centered productions requires “a differentuse of time, but ultimately not more time” than traditional “read, stage, and run” models because self-directed students practice their delegated responsibilities efficiently during otherwise frantic technical weeks (87; emphasis in original).
To explain socially responsible practices, Lazarus addresses the conditions of students’ increasingly diverse identities regarding poverty, disabilities, race, culture, languages, gender, sexuality, and spirituality. Most importantly, she considers how largely ignored ageism intersects with adults’ protective norms and offers helpful guidelines for choosing and facilitating age-appropriate materials. Building a caring, empathetic, and respectful community also depends on teachers avoiding burnout by taking care of themselves as another best practice, even as they strive to implement a comprehensive theatre education. Such a curriculum engages students in weaving eight practitioner roles (that is, researcher, playwright, director, designer, technician, actor, audience, and critic) with four methods of discipline-based inquiry (production, history, aesthetics, and...