This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual Texas Thespians Festival in Dallas, TX. Beyond the sheer size of the program, over 7,000 students, I was blown away by the talent and knowledge they displayed as well. It made me swell with pride that the future generation of theatre performers, designers, directors and writers is in safe hands. However one area had me concerned.
I had the chance to speak with a number of students whose goal wasn't necessarily to be on stage or behind it, but rather teach it. I was taken aback by the number of students who wanted to become theatre educators. You don't usually find that at a thespian festival.
And while I was certainly thrilled to see this many students interested in that line of work, I was concerned with the number of opportunities out there for them.
More degrees in theatre education are emerging, but I don't feel there are enough at the high quality theatre colleges. Yes, Faulkner University in AL has a BA in Theatre Education, but with all due respect, I wouldn't rank Faulkner as a top theatre college or even a good one. There are some top notch theatre colleges that have Theatre Education degrees such as, Emerson and Ball State. But not nearly enough.
Many more colleges who offer "Theatre Education" degrees are nothing more than what would be offered if someone was majoring in Education and minoring in theatre without melding the two together. I think most teachers agree that teaching certain subjects requires a bit more nuance than that.
I can see why many colleges might be hesitant to take on a degree like this. When public school budget cuts are inevitable, theatre and arts programs are the first to go. So many wonder if having degrees like this might set people up for failure. However I believe that it might cause an entirely different effect.
I believe that with more degree awarded thatre educators, programs will be in a better state moving forward, on stage and off. These educators would be trained in handling budgets, developing long term strategies for fundraising and also be connected with outside organizations to enlist support if needed. It would also obviously help in the classroom as well. I see too many schools employ teachers from other subject areas to lead these programs. Having a trained degree awarded theatre teacher on staff would improve the quality of these programs as well as the number of students who participate.
While I don't feel the state of theatre is in jeopardy, I do feel that it's not being encouraged as much as it should. Witnessing so many supportive and knowledgeable theatre teachers this past weekend reinforced the belief that this is the time when we need many more of them, not less. And with quality theatre schools extending and offering theatre education degrees, it will only help.
Photo: York High School theater teacher Amy Insley, right, and sophomore Parker Dayton go over notes with senior Destiny Delaigle for the upcoming performance of “Footloose.” / Colin Riddle