Teaching Drama

School Plays – Is Product Part of the Process?

Storyteller Bill Harley recently wrote a piece that caught my eye in which he discusses an early reticence, when working with students, to toward a final product – i.e. a performance in front of an audience. Eventually he comes to the conclusion that a performance “product” isn’t so bad after all, and even helps to motivate the students to work harder.

My feeling is that, much like the old “if a tree falls in a forest” riddle, art doesn’t exist without an audience. A painting isn’t beautiful until someone sees it. A joke isn’t funny until someone hears it. A song doesn’t have a good beat until someone dances.

Yes there’s a process involved in rehearsing a play, but the live performance is part of that process. The audience is the last piece of the theatrical puzzle – an additional vital character, and the interplay between actors and audience is what the whole thing is about. A play isn’t a play until it is shared.

What do you think?

About the author

Craig Mason


  • I think that not aiming at production eliminated an awful lot of important learning.

    We want to teach (and provide opportunity for) creation, but having just written a letter to my high school drama coach on the event of her retirement? I learned work ethic and dedication to a project from her. She never missed a day, and never postponed or canceled shows…. and I think that sort of learning is just as important as the artistic creation.

    We’re growing people holistically… not just as artists.

  • Exactly, exactly, exactly! And this is why it hurts so dearly when the arts in schools is treated as frivolous and expendable. Drama in school is not teaching students to become actors. It is teaching them to work with others, to express themselves, to be able to put forth an idea, to speak in public. All so important to becoming a human being in the world. Where else does a student learn these skills?

    I’m back and forth on the performance thing. Absolutely the audience is part of the process. Theatre must have an audience. But when it comes to high school production, the product that they deliver is rarely as good as the process it came from. I’m always amazed by what I hear happened in the process in rehearsal. I’m less so in the performance.

    Then again, there’s nothing like the energy, enthusiasm, and sparkle of a high student after that first show – it’s important they have that to….

  • I think it’s important as a reward to the students for the process, and as a motivator to make all the other beneficial parts of the process work. It puts the stakes in an appropriate place to keep folks motivated for the 8 weeks they’re building something.

    And without performances you lose the kids who want to be involved but don’t want to be on stage.