When I reflect on my childhood into my adolescence, and think about the experiences I gained the most from, the performing arts are at the top of the list. Starting from the 5th grade, I was heavily into theatre. I think what drew me to it was seeing my sister, a natural, be the star onstage. It was fascinating seeing her transfer between completely different roles, all with ease.
I didn't get very many leads during my time doing theatre. With the small roles that I did get, however, I was able to step outside of myself and embody someone else. I really had to think about the motives of each character, their personality, behavior, and how they reacted to the other characters. Though shy in real life, onstage I can be outgoing, sensual, the life of the party, and many other things - all at once, even.
I learned how to socially progress and travel from one point to another. Theatre also taught me how to further empathize with others and understand other peoples' motives and not just my own.
Theatre, along with being an art form, can also be used as a testing ground for social interaction. I think this is why so many programs are being created that use theatre in a roleplay technique, to teach children with Autism Spectrum disorders how to socialize. It's a safe place to learn the right and wrong ways to interact, and it allows the actor to break out of his or her shell.
Because of theatre, I am no longer afraid of having the spotlight on me. I'm less inhibited and am not afraid to act silly and crazy in front of a lot of people. Acting has also taught me to take initiative, thereby helping to break the ice for others involved. I can attribute almost everything I know about human interaction from socializing at rehearsals and being onstage, in someone else's shoes. Theatre has helped me better understand the rules of social interaction.
This is why I think more theatre programs should be created, not even just for special needs children, but a safe place where children of all abilities can practice socializing and step outside of their comfort zone by using theatre as an outlet. A theatre program would also give a child common ground to socialize with other children about: it would give them another thing they have in common. I've always found I do my best in structured environments, and a theatre or improv program would be the perfect place for that. I find it a wonderful way to learn, and it goes hand-in-hand with Occupational Therapy in a child's enrichment.
I think a theatre program would be a great place for a parent to bring their autistic child. I learned so much from it, and I want others to experience the same. Just my two cents. What are your thoughts on theatre as a social skills teaching tool?