THE SURPRISING BENEFITS OF THEATRE IN EDUCATION
By Michelle Rosemond, Education Consultant, Headteacher
When looking for things to do during the school holidays, school holidays are a great time to check out theatre in London.
There are a huge selection of shows to choose from but the Olivier Award nominated Gangsta Granny Live on Stage, was definitely at the top of our list.
If you are over 20, David Walliams is perhaps best known for his hilarious partnership with Matt Lucas on the BBC One sketch show Little Britain or maybe his judging spot on Britain’s Got Talent.
However, it is his hugely successful writing career in children’s literature that may surprise you.
He has revolutionised reading for children and in the ten years since the publication of his first novel, The Boy in the Dress, illustrated by the iconic Sir Quentin Blake, Walliams has become a global bestseller, with sales exceeding 23 million copies.
His novels and picture books have been adapted for TV but the magic really happens at touring theatre productions such as the Birmingham Stage Company’s (BSC) Gangsta Granny.
This Walliams title is his most popular story yet and with the phenomenal adaptation and direction from Neal Foster (he is behind all the Horrible Histories stage shows and also founded and manages the BSC), and superb acting from a credible cast, it is unsurprising that the show has recently been nominated for Best Entertainment + Family Olivier Award.
The BSC have been touted as ‘the masters of children’s theatre’ and following our experience, we couldn’t agree more.
The story itself is hilariously irreverent in parts (as is the Walliams style) but also has a heartwarming moral thread to its core (the production is dedicated to Rose Zierer who Neal Foster was introduced to through a local befriending scheme run by Age UK), which is always good to reflect on with children afterwards.
Yes we laughed until our sides hurt but actually how well do we treat the elders in our society?
And if they can, do we encourage our children to really get to know their grandparents before it is too late?
I love the cinema as much as the next person but the theatre; oh the theatre!
Admittedly, families can be put off by the price which can make this aspect of the arts socially divisive compared to the democracy of the big screen, but this is where Kids Week can help.
During the month of August, a child aged 16 or under can get free theatre tickets to selected performances when they're accompanied by a full-paying adult. Not the average 2.2 family?
Adults can buy up to two extra kids' tickets at half price, and better yet there are no booking or postage fees.
Everything is so much more tangible in the theatre; the actors and acting, the props, the set design, the costumes, the lighting, the music (in some shows children get to see the orchestra in the pit), even being part of the audience in a theatre is part of the charm.
The set design by Jaqueline Trousdale for Gangsta Granny was particularly inspired.
Perhaps I should confess now that my day job is in education (plus I have an old Theatre Studies A Level knocking around) so I am a staunch advocate for the arts in schools; theatre truly is a unique, immersive learning experience for audiences of any age.
Taking children to see a show is certainly an exciting, memorable experience, but being exposed to the arts is beneficial in so many other ways. Performing arts teach children how to think creatively through imagination.
Theatre exposes young people to new vocabulary and through the arts of dance, acting, and music, children learn how to communicate in a variety of unique ways.
There are studies that say all of this enhances children’s performance in school based on the science of the left and right hemispheres of the brain being stimulated leading to more effective thought processes.
If this isn’t enough, children are exposed to different cultures and are immersed in stories with characters from all sorts of backgrounds teaching empathy and cultural relativity.
How about theatre as a means of teaching children patience and good manners?
They will learn how to sit quietly, respect others, and pay attention - a complete contrast to the fleeting attention needed for a screen.
So thank you Neal Foster and the brilliant Birmingham Stage Company.
In a glorious couple of hours we had exposure to entertainment that not only raises school performance, but also encourages imagination, creativity, communication, patience, and morals.
Oh and enthusiasm from three reluctant boy readers to pick up another David Walliams book to read!
Check out our guide to the best London theatre for children below: