Die-hard lover of the arts, actor, playwright of over 50 plays, director of over 200 productions, producer, and mentor: these are roles that Teresa Love fills as she works in theatre and mentors teachers who, in turn, bring theatre to their students’ lives.
Love graduated from BYU in Theatre and Media Arts, with an emphasis in Child Drama. For twenty-five years, she worked in Los Angeles, engaging in all aspects of theatre for young audiences. She also worked as an elementary drama specialist in the Fullerton School District. Since moving to Utah fifteen years ago, Love began working adjunct at BYU and UVU, teaching theatre education courses and directing touring shows. Simultaneously, she has worked with the BYU ARTS Partnership and BTS Arts.
As a mentor for teachers in the Arts Integration Endorsement course, Love has been teaching ways to practically integrate drama into lesson plans. “I was so pleased with their commitment to using drama as instructional strategies for math and social studies,” she said. “You can’t help but address language arts standards when you integrate drama, but it is very useful in other subjects for engagement and discovery.”
Love said that she will never recommend an approach that she hasn’t found to be successful in a really practical way. “My husband is an elementary teacher so I am very attuned to teachers’ needs and the pressures they are under,” she said. One question that Love is consistently asked by teachers is, “What about the shy kids?” This makes sense to Love. She said that elementary teachers are kind souls and want their students to feel happy. But, according to Love:
• Many, many professional actors are shy people or spent their childhoods in shyness.
• It has been my experience that the shy children tend to make the best performing puppeteers.
• Shy children often have no confidence in the legitimacy of their own voices or have not found their place in a larger group.
Because of these three statements, it is easy to conclude that children need the opportunity to have learning through, with, and about drama. “Drama/theatre is collaborative, creative, highlights the human condition, deals with conflict and problem solving,” Love said. “Why would we hold shy children away from the gifts that drama learning can have in their lives?”
“Consider a similar question,” Love said. “’What about the kids who struggle with math?’ Would we pat those kids on the head and imply to them that they can’t learn and grow in the gifts that learning the magic of mathematics has in store for them? No. We would be patient, devise differentiated strategies, praise efforts, pair with mentors, offer extra support, and mostly encourage and nurture without making them feel less than capable. And there would always be the expectation that they could be successful. You do the same thing in drama.”
Love said that shy children often find that playing in another role is liberating. Shy children’s gifts have often been discounted because they aren’t “school” gifts. But they might be theatre gifts, creative gifts. Drama work builds in authentic group work where people are listened to and supported by the ensemble. Speaking and listening in front of a group is part of theatre work, and if shy children are motivated to support the others, they will often rise to the occasion and develop new skills in those areas. “Drama is especially for shy kids,” Love said. “I know. I was a shy kid. I’ve made my living in the theatre for over forty years.”
Love sees many of the challenges of modern times for children addressed through participation and learning through the arts. “Connection, ensemble, collaboration, perception, diversity, perspective, wonder, identity, imagination, and discipline are all central elements in arts work,” she said. “Empathy grows out of work in drama.”
Love said that institutional education, in general, has taken its eye off the ball with overemphasis on testing data, skewing for children–and teachers– what learning actually is. Arts education recalibrates children, putting them in touch with the joy of following their curiosity, and the love of learning. Arts education refocuses teachers for why they got into teaching in the first place, to affect hearts and minds for the better.
“I am committed to helping teachers understand that the in-classroom drama they use will affect their students more than any single play production event they produce,” Love said. “By this I mean the everyday moments of storytelling, puppetry, theatre games, improvisation, and other integrated activities are best bang for their buck. A child will long remember a five-minute experience of walking in the shoes of another soul and the intellectual and emotional discoveries made while doing so.”
Laura Giles is a lover of all things art, a first-grade teacher in Alpine School District, a writer for the Daily Herald newspaper, an Arts Leadership Academy graduate, and has earned the Arts Integration Endorsement from Brigham Young University. She can be reached at LauraCGiles@gmail.com.