Margaret Hair: Acting classes have lasting benefits |

Margaret Hair: Acting classes have lasting benefits

— I can’t say that having participated in children’s theater helped my college roommates graduate. But it certainly gave them an advantage. An example:

A good number of first-semester students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are required to take a class on basic rhetoric, where they research, write and deliver speeches. The goal isn’t so much to learn how to say things that are true; it’s more to learn how to say things that are convincing.

So instead of speaking about public policy or university issues or any kind of serious, researchable subject matter, my freshman dorm roommate gave a speech about 1980s Namco arcade games titled, “Bosconian is better than Rally-X, but (probably) not better than PAC-MAN.” Her argument included a fabricated, supposedly randomized poll of 500 students, and fake testimonials about why Bosconian is an awesome space battle game.

This speech was ridiculous and false, and this speech got a higher grade than anything else in the class.

I’m not saying that having learned to act at an early age made this girl an extraordinary liar. I am saying that it gave her rhetoric skills much more advanced than those of most 18-year-olds, to the point that she could impose truth onto a monologue that didn’t contain a single verifiable fact.

In talking about the potential benefits of starting a children’s theater program in Steamboat Springs for this week’s Scene story (page 8), Paula Salky mentioned that in addition to offering a creative outlet, artistic endeavors tend to help children in school. Learning how to move around and speak on stage helps with confidence and delivery, and learning how to be on time for rehearsal helps with scheduling and organization.

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Watching drama teacher Rusty de Lucia lead a small group of students in an exercise on improvisation and pantomime Tuesday, those benefits were clear. Even for students who don’t plan to follow acting any further than an after-school workshop, coming up with movements and lines of thought on the spot is beneficial in most social and academic situations.

Students have to stick to everything they do in an acting exercise and follow through with it. Whether they ever step on stage for a production – which the workshop’s organizers hope they will, given enough community support to get a children’s theater going – isn’t necessarily a consideration.

Learning the basics of drama might not make every student able to expound on single-controller, no-longer-popular video games 10 years down the road. But it will give them the basic confidence to do that, or most anything else.

– To reach Margaret Hair, call 871-4204 or e-mail

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