June 23rd, 2018

Eye on the Esplanade: Life lessons children can learn from theatre

By Medicine Hat News on March 9, 2018.

Moving to Medicine Hat in 2015 was the biggest decision my husband and I ever made. From the very start we chose to embrace Medicine Hat as our new home and we’ve been pleasantly surprised in so many ways at all the big things that our small city has to offer. The Hat has some of the most beautiful scenic prairie trails we’ve ever come across. It’s packed full with engaging public events and expos, fantastic local restaurants and cafes and — most importantly to us — it caters to a vibrant arts and culture scene. The city is filled with music, art, dance, and tons of theatre! This little city has a bigger theatre profile than some of the larger cities in which we’ve lived previously, with a significant number of theatre companies and multiple performance venues. With every passing year I am so pleased with the ever increasing theatre programming being offered to the children and students of our city. As the Esplanade’s education coordinator, I fully appreciate the power of the dramatic arts and their ability to engage young audience members in meaningful and thought-provoking conversation. Here are just a few of the benefits:

1. Communication, literacy and vocabulary: Attending different kinds of performances exposes children to new ways of communicating through various art forms such as singing, dancing, and acting. A well rounded performance introduces students to new vocabulary terms, unique modes of expression and various literary conventions and techniques. Students learn to analyze characters and investigate plot as they navigate the various conflicts that arise on stage. Most of the time they’ll be having so much fun in the process that they won’t even realize the complexity of their literary contemplations!

2. Imagination: Witnessing the whimsical settings so lovingly portrayed by different theatre companies allows students an escape from the real world. Creative thinking patterns emerge when students are offered the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild. As engaged audience members, students are completely free to let their imaginations whisk them away into a story which will, ultimately, help foster creativity in others areas of their life.

3. Empathy: Theatre allows students to step into the minds and shoes of all types of dynamic and complex characters. An important exercise in empathy ensues, as young audience members develop an understanding of how different people might feel about various real-life issues and challenges. Students may identify with struggles that are being portrayed in the performances, giving them the comfort of knowing that they are not alone in their struggles to work out important life questions like who they are, and their plans for the future. Observing characters from all walks of life and their struggles helps them build compassion and empathy.

4. Memorable learning experiences: Many theatre performances are based on specific historical events or pieces of literature. What better way for students to learn and actually remember these historical events and stories than seeing them re-enacted first hand? Theatre can be a great vehicle for introducing children to short stories, poetry, classic novels and famous playwrights!

Exposing both elementary and secondary school students to top notch theatre performances not only fosters an early appreciation for the arts, but opens a whole world of enriching educational possibilities!

The Esplanade has a number of upcoming theatre performances for schools. On March 13, Supported by Cenovus Energy, Calgary Opera will bring to the Esplanade main stage two performances of Hannaraptor, for kindergarten to grade four. On March 22, the Green Thumb Theatre production Still/Falling, suitable for Grades 8 to 12, will be presented at the Medicine Hat College Eresman Theatre. On May 17, DuffleBag Theatre brings the classics Robin Hood and Cinderella for Kindergarten to grade three to the Esplanade. To book your school or class, please visit our Education Booking section at esplanade.ca/education or phone 403-502-8585.

Dayna Walls is education coordinator at the Esplanade.

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