Theatre: A Doorway into Transformational Education.

As a performing arts teacher, I have found it most effective to create curricula that move towards creating ensemble-based projects that result in public performances — the students are seen as collaborators.  My experience in the classroom and my time on the professional stage have taught me that the best teacher for theatre is the play itself, the best teacher for how give a speech, is the speech itself.  All lessons and activities are designed to unlock this potential.  And the best way to maximize this experience is to do what the professionals do:  aim to produce excellent theatre.

Theatre is most successful when it gives its audience a rich human experience — one that feels authentic, eye-opening, passionate and transformational. There are no guarantees that this will happen.  Indeed, most of the time, it does not. But, as teachers, if we can empower performers to tackle their roles with their whole selves, with full-on curiosity, empathy for the characters, compassion and concern for the dramatic circumstances of the story, then the odds are good that a truly transformational educational experience can be had.

Morris Carnovsky (one of the great masters of modern acting) calls the path of the actor, “the path of empathy”. I hold this in mind as I enter the rehearsal space and aim to model this in all student interactions. I want students to have many as opportunities as possible for their imaginations to open. I want a safe space for them to experience emotional awareness to realities beyond their day-to-day selves.

Finally, while life may be complicated, acting technique should be kept simple:  the main tool I hope to give students is to learn that it’s easier to do something than to try and be something as the latter only leads to self-consciousness and insecurity.  It’s even sometimes best to believe that there are no nouns in the universe at all! (Look under a microscope deep enough and you find nothing but verbs… but I’ll leave that to the physicists…)

I aim to nurture a safe environment where students are challenged, invited, provoked, and encouraged to dive in as passionately as possible.  True learning usually feels like waking up, and most of us need to be shaken up a little if we’ve been asleep.


Sample Lesson Plan

(Grades 7-12)
Bradley Dean Whyte



1) Physical Warm-ups: 10 minutes
-Isolating body parts in circles, quick vocal warm-ups, the Reaching exercise.

2) Improv Game: Zip, Zab, Zub. 10 minutes

Question: What does this game have in common with theatre? What does it require of you?
Discuss: focus on partner, speaking clearly, eye contact, urgency, goal, circumstances, doing vs. being, not abandoning your partner, the nature of competition

3) Being/Demonstrating Versus Doing: 20 minutes
-Invite volunteers to attempt:

to be “brave”
to be “charming”
to be “paranoid”
to be “in love”
to be “disappointed”. Etc.

Question: How truthful or interesting are these demonstrations? What is lacking?
Discuss: the adjectives and judgments occur in the audience’s imagination… the actor does not judge…

4) Changing Adjectives to Verbs (States of Being into Playing Action): 20 minutes. Convert bravery into a brave action: pretend the room is one fire, you have thirty seconds to save everyone in here, what do you do? Do it now!
And so on with the others…

5) Filler: If there is time: The Flying exercise. Request a volunteer to fly… literally fly.

Question: Why would we attempt to do something we know we can’t do?
Discuss: All actors play to win and believe they can, even when they play characters that lose.

*6) Question to Ponder: Where does the word “theatre” come from? What is its origin and what does it mean? Go find out for next class.