Dallas Children's Theater Blog

Astonishing Kids And Families With The Fun of Broadway-Like Plays and A Lot More!

The Power of Theater

DCT -TUCK audience - 3/29/2011

Students get ready for the matinee performance of DCT’s Tuck Everlasting.

It has been said that theater affects children in multiple ways. It allows children to be creative and indulge in the beauty of arts at a young age. But what if I told you that theater did more than that for your child? In fact, according to Professor Jay Greene from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, theater has the ability to increase tolerance, empathy and other cognitive skills in students.

It’s almost impossible to measure the effects of theater, but Greene and his team might have made a breakthrough. Researchers examined the impact that high-quality theater productions have on students. After reviewing the data from this experiment, researchers determined that students who watch live theater productions have enhanced knowledge of the plots, increased vocabulary, tolerance and a greater ability to read others’ emotions.

I only attended a couple of plays as a child, and this study makes me wonder how much better I would have scored on my reading comprehensive tests in grade school had I experienced live theater more often. Professor Greene led a research team that performed a randomized field study, offering various students from 7th to 12th grade free theater tickets to either Hamlet or A Christmas Carol. Approximately 670 students completed the application process and were organized into 24 groups, based on similarities in grade level, demographics and class subject (English, Drama, etc.). Researchers constructed lotteries to determine which groups would be “treatment” groups (receiving the free tickets) and which group would be a “control” group (not receiving free tickets). Some students in both the treatment and control groups also read or watched movie versions of the plays.

Following up, Greene’s researchers sent out surveys to all of the students who participated in the study. For each play, researchers asked students a few questions about the plot, vocabulary, emotions and other psychographic information. The results were eye-catching.

Results chart

The chart above confirms that students who went to see the live theater shows knew more about the story and vocabulary definitions than those who did not see the performance. Greene’s team worked with a Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (RMET). The RMET is an advanced test regarding theory of the mind. RMET is used to assess individual differences in social and emotional cognition across various groups and cultures. By administering a youth version of this test, researchers concluded that students who saw the live show increased their ability to read others’ emotions by 23 percent of a standard deviation, compared to 21 percent by students of the control group. I was surprised to see that the tolerance level of the treatment group was lower than that of the students who did not see the live theater show. Researchers determined that interest in seeing theater is strongly related to tolerance and may be a reason for the level differences.

I’m incredibly proud to be a part of the theater industry. The staff at Dallas Children’s Theater believes theater is an art form that everyone should explore. With a variety of theater and video classes, DCT encourages students to get hands-on experience and learn valuable skills in theater arts. These skills benefit them well beyond the camp experience.  Because of the in-depth knowledge they receive from DCT teaching artists, these concepts have the opportunity to be imprinted in their formative minds for the long term. DCT’s Associate Artistic Director and Education Director, Nancy Schaeffer, wholeheartedly agrees with the results of this study.“This study confirms what I’ve known for years. This is why I do what I do. Theater is powerful,” Schaeffer said.

DCT Andy Long teaching class at  Bonham Elementary

Schaeffer teaches a theater class at a local elementary school.

Here at DCT, Schaeffer directs the DCT Academy and Teen Conservatory classes as well as the Curtains Up on Reading Residency program. She also directs and choreographs several Teen Scene and mainstage shows every year. After 30 years in this industry, Schaeffer’s perception of theater has not changed.

“It is so helpful to get validation on the power of live performance. I feel very strongly that there is much value in this work,” she said.

It’s a lovely sight to see children being inspired and emotionally in tune with the characters on stage. Robyn Flatt, DCT’s executive artistic director, believes the value of theater is easily detectable just by watching children’s facial expressions.

She states, “Their eyes light up. They’re dynamic. They’re excited. They want to tell you about it. They have connected emotionally to the event, and then they have an experience that they want to share with you.”

Audience shot

DCT guests enjoy a live theater performance of Madeline’s Christmas.

Flatt goes on to say, “Emotion happens before learning and you’ve got to connect on that emotional level. And that’s what we do in theater. We bring emotion to it.”

I believe that kids who have seen DCT’s productions will remember these shows for the rest of their lives. The power of theater is remarkable, and DCT’s only hope is to share this power with generations to come.

This study will appear in the Winter 2015 issue of the online journal, Education Next, and is currently available on the publication’s website at https://educationnext.org/learning-live-theater. Please visit www.dct.org to get more information about our upcoming shows, events and academy classes.

To learn more about how your child, class or afterschool group can benefit from DCT’s programming, contact Nancy Schaeffer at 214-978-0110.


Written by: Tammie Riley, Community Engagement Coordinator
Hometown: Houston, TX
Studies: Public Relations, minor in Spanish and certificate in Technical Communication

Holiday Traditions at DCT

KA3_8199This year has been a memorable one.  There have been so many events and occurrences and outbreaks that have altered the world and most of them are too scary to share with our children.  We want them to believe in goodness but it’s not always easy. As we prepare for MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, the two young actors playing Susan show us that kids understand the need for holiday cheer.

The story of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET is not a new one.  Many remember the black and white film introducing the kind Kris Kringle to a young family that needed some hope. Here we are decades after that iconic film, still needing a gentle soul to help us maneuver through tricky times.


Blaire Marie Messmann and Francis Fuselier

DCT Executive Artistic Director Robyn Flatt will direct MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET alongside award-winning associate director Doug Miller.  Flatt explains, “The play speaks to loss, loneliness and the need for connection with others. Our Santa continually sees beyond the obvious, feeling the pain of young Susan who doesn’t have a father.  He recognizes her needs even more than her mother does, and he is determined that both mother and daughter will feel whole again.  We can all relate to their fear and uncertainty as we face the countless unfamiliar challenges of today. This is a time when we especially need to see compassion in action.”


Francis Fuselier and Lily Kate Forbes

Two young actors, Blaire Marie Messmann and Lily Kate Forbes are alternating the role of Susan, which requires an exceptional amount of depth in order to accurately portray. When we asked them about the message of the show, they both talked about decorating, music, cooking, having dinner, and all the things they do with their families. They also recalled the message of kindness they are telling through MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET.

Blaire Marie Messmann says, “DCT shows are a great way to kick off the holiday season.Any activity that gets children thinking about other people helps spread the Christmas spirit in our community.”

KA2_2241Lily Kate Forbes shares, “Working on Miracle on 34th Street has reminded me that Christmas is not only about toys and all of the commercial aspects of the season but it’s about sharing love and joy and happiness with everyone around you! Sharing live theater at DCT is a great holiday tradition for families because live theater is a really magical experience. When I was little one of my favorite things to do with my Mom was see shows because shows at the DCT are like storybooks come to life. It is really cool for little kids with growing minds to experience the magic of the holiday season through live theater.”This year KA3_7496willbe the first of many holiday trips to DCT for me and my kids. I can’t think of any better way to show them that Christmas is more than toys, and that there is need all around us, and that it’s the sharing of experiences they’ll remember when someone asks them about the Christmas spirit.

Robyn Flatt concludes, “We want our neighbors to know that Santa Claus himself is right here on DCT’s stage, very real, absolutely wonderful, and bringing to each and everyone a spirit we can all believe in.”