Julianna Rose of Thespian Troupe 1623 at Wantagh High School in Wantagh, New York, is the second runner up of the 2021 Thespian Democracyworks essay competition.

The Educational Theatre Association has joined with other national arts education associations to launch the Arts ARE Education advocacy campaign, an initiative that will emphasize the need for schools to continue to fund and grow arts programs in their districts in 2021-22.

One of the important messages the campaign emphasizes is the ways in which theatre education creates safe spaces for students. Therefore, this year’s Democracyworks prompt asked students to share why theatre education matters to them and their school community by answering this question: 

“How does theatre support your social and emotional well being and foster a welcoming school environment?”


Julianna Rose is the second runner-up in the 2021 Thespian Democracyworks essay contest. Her essay appears below. 

The stage, aglow with multicolored lights, held its breath, awaiting the first line of dialogue, the first ensemble number, the first solo. I stood, huddling backstage next to my fellow cast members, waiting for the opening number of our performance. The exhilaration of opening night and the tangible desire to perform overcame me as I wrapped my arms tighter around my stomach, attempting to stop the frenzy of fluttering wings that had taken residence there. I was about to rush onstage, cast my worries aside, and simply become my character. Throughout this show, I learned that my troubles were not isolated and that these characters, though fictional, had also faced challenges and struggles that they had to overcome. Many of my fellow actors have had similar, enlightening experiences on the stage. Theatre is an outlet that enables students to cooperate with others and engage in critical self-reflection, benefiting communication and mental health.

The collaboration involved in theatre is a critical skill, imperative for use in real-world contexts, and incredibly helpful for creating an inclusive environment. While it can be learned during school in group assignments, it is strengthened by theatre education. One of the most beneficial teamwork exercises I have ever experienced took place in my school theatre class, when my director told everyone to go home and memorize a segment of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The following day, we stood in a circle and tossed a ball back and forth, saying one word each time the ball fell into our hands. While we were not the most adept at throwing and catching, after all theatre, not basketball, was our area of expertise, each time we caught the ball and called out the next word to the poem, a wave of relief washed over us. From this, we learned the value of an individual, even within a large group. It also taught us to constantly be on our toes, ready at any moment to recall the next word in the poem. While we often forgot the next word in the high-stakes circumstance, no one judged us, we simply picked the ball up and started from the top. It was clear that there was no blame involved, and that we were all supporting one another, a key message of inclusion that theatre students learn by practicing their craft.

Additionally, theatre is a creative outlet that enables individuals to express themselves. The stage is a refuge to many, as it is more comfortable than the often stressful school days they must partake in. Being able to jump onstage after a long day of assignments is extremely beneficial, allowing individuals to use their brain in different ways. Some individuals are kinesthetic learners, and enabling them to dance around the stage is extremely beneficial to their learning process and mental well-being. Not only that, but theatre allows individuals to learn from the struggles of others. Even if they are going through a rough time, being introduced to characters who are similar to them, or perhaps the complete opposite of them, allows them to understand how others cope with situations. Theatre allows self-reflection as actors can place themselves in the shoes of the characters they are portraying, and connect to the characters, learning more about themselves in the process. Moreover, the theme of loneliness and isolation runs rampant through theatre, and can be applied to the pandemic-ridden world, enabling individuals to understand how they connect with others who would be, otherwise, vastly different from themselves. Allowing individuals to pursue their talents is an extremely helpful tool for improving mental health and awareness. While these may be able to be discovered in a core class, the hands-on nature of theatre allows messages to truly stick in a participant’s mind.

Therefore, due to the collaboration and creativity that theatre teaches, funds should continue to be allocated to theatre programs in schools. Working with others and gaining an understanding of oneself through connection with fictional characters is extremely important for the mental well-being of young students, thus it is imperative to continue supporting endeavors in the arts. 

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