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drama, our theatres will continue to increase, to change from movies to vaudeville, from vaudeville to burlesque, from burlesque to empty buildings, and finally come to their end. In search of remedies for the growing dissatisfaction with the theatres of today, the managers will blindly try various ways and means, only to come to the realization that they cannot succeed without resorting to their time-honored methods of extensive advertising to force down the throats of their patrons the undesirable trash that could not be swallowed without sugarcoating.
The dramatic instinct is not a phenomenon of the aristocratic ages alone, as some of our overzealous democrats contend. Today it is more felt than ever before. It reaches nearly every home in our communities. A canvass was made of the theatres of Chicago one day, and it was found that one sixth of the entire population was in the theatres during that day. At this rate, we can see that nearly the whole city is reached by the theatres within one week.
Yet, what do the theatre-goers receive in the theatres? By far the greater number of them are fed on plays of the lowest quality, which food, in the long run, contributes to the building of their moral and intellectual character. Indeed our theatres are "educating" the public. The schools cannot even successfully counteract this "education," no matter how much they try it, and whatever their claims to success may be. The fact is that what is seen in the theatres is absorbed by the powerful dramatic instinct, and later becomes man's moral guide, standard for conduct, index to social activities, and an element in the character formation. This has always been true of the dramatic instinct, and will always remain so. Care must be taken, therefore, to see that the theatres offer the proper kind of drama. The drama which is presented to our audiences to-day has departed so far from its former high ideals that it is difficult to realize how intimate was its early relation to religion. It is only to the small academic audiences that the pure drama still offers its sustaining influence at rare intervals.
Many of our social reformers have come to realize that the con
dition of the drama is deplorable. Accordingly, reforms for its improvement have been started here and there. Movements for community drama began; voluntary associations for the encour agement of good art came into being, and even censorship has been established. These reforms, however, are only feeble attempts to crush a formidable enemy. As for the censorship, it is very ineffective, for, as Kipling has pointed out in his poem "The American," we like to make many laws because we can effectively break them. No reform or censorship or any other surface remedy will help the situation. The trouble is too deep-seated to be removed through external treatment. All our reforms will remain ineffective in the struggle against perverted social morals and habits which rest upon a firm and lasting foundation. We must get at the disease through internal applications; we must cure the tree from its roots.
The question naturally arises: How can we make our drama educationally effective, and make it a force for social good? The straightforward answer to this question is: Our schools must realize that it is their duty to bring about the existence of a high quality drama in the United States; and the Junior High School is the proper place to begin the work. If the ministrations of the theatre on the side of good could but gain the upper hand, it is impossible to estimate all that could be accomplished in the field of moral and civic regeneration."
The schools should educate the people to create the demand for drama, So far they have failed on the job. How little they are educating the people to appreciate the beautiful and the artistic, the class of plays which appeal to most of our theatre-goers offers convincing proof. It is indeed true that our public schools do little to develop the dramatic and aesthetic sense, or prepare children to exercise discrimination between good drama and what is essentially coarse-between the artistic and low-toned. So long as the theatre forms one of the chief recreations of the people, and so long as it unnoticeably exercises such an enormous influence over their lives, how else, if not through the public schools, is the great body of our theatre-goers to be trained to proper standards?
The age of adolescence is the best time to begin the neces sary training of the dramatic instinct. This instinct is more developed in children than in grown people. Especially it is active at this great formative period of the child's development. In speaking of the development of the dramatic instinct in children, Dr. G. Stanley Hall says: "The dramatic instinct has innumerable outcroppings in childhood and youth, and the present seems to be the proper psychological moment for its appreciation and utilization in education." As early as the kindergarten "they fly like birds, hop like frogs, go on all fours like quadrupeds, and mimic perhaps every person and vocation they know, and thus find enlargement and relief." Dr. Curtis, speaking of the same phenomenon in the child's life says: "This is the desire to feel what others are feeling, to act and get experience by proxy, to get enjoyment of borrowed pain, to put into practice the Aristotelian principle of Katharsis (purification). All this so true of man is still more true of the child and youth, alive with surplus energy, possessed by a craving for excitement, seeking always something new."
One of the evidences of the development of a strong dramatic instinct in children is found in the fact that they are the most numerous of our theatre-goers. This fact, however, indicates further that they are greatly exposed to the harmful influencs of our theatres. "The theatre is a force to be reckoned with in the life of children. They resort to all sorts of unlawful practices to procure money for the tickets, if they cannot obtain it from their parents. Many of them go in need and hunger, but they cannot miss their theatre attendance. Many of them resort even to the practice of begging, in order to satisfy their hunger for artistic enjoyment." It satisfies the child's natural curiosity, his craving for excitement, and his love of excursions into the world of imagination-phenomena which are especially manifest in an adolescent. The vividness of imagery, interest in inysticism, spirit of venturesomeness, religious aspiration, and craving for heroes are nothing more than the forceful undercur rents of the dramatic instinct in an adolescent. The child's
demand for the dramatic is the demand for the expression of personality, and for a chance to escape from its limitations; both natural and imposed; and this demand makes the adolescent seize upon the various materials that go to satisfy his craving.
Now it is the absence of recognition of the dramatic instinct in the public schools that causes the flocking of children to the movies. They seek here a passive gratification of their dramatic instinct. The influence of the movies becomes a powerful factor in the formation of their character, and usually works for their disadvantage. The types of plays presented just fit their exaggerated desires, and direct the instincts of the children into wrong channels.
It is commonly thought that the plays which suit the taste of children best are those which are detrimental to their development. "They like to see exciting movies, and the wrongdoer and the criminal become their heroes. The heroes seen in the movies are freely imitated at home. The effects of such imitations upon the character are very destructive." Judge W. W. Foster, of the General Sessions Court of New York, claims that portrayals of crime on the stage are dangerous to morals, and that they exercise "a hypnotic influence" upon the spectator. The same is claimed by Miss Jane Addams.
Has the Junior High School done anything to remedy the conditions described? Has it done anything in the direction of utilizing the important dramatic instinct for social betterment? To be sure, the advocates of this radical educational reform made enough clamour about "a satisfactory redirection" of the various instincts of the adolescent into proper channels. In reality, however, we find the entire curriculum of the Junior High School overloaded with subjects aiming at the satisfaction of our immediate materialistic needs. The important training in the drama has not been included in the curriculum even as one of the electives. The work is usually squeezed in somewhere in the English courses, and is left to the discretion of the individual teacher. No specifications as to the amount of time to be devoted to the subject, or the amount of work to be done are given. In the most progressive Junior High Schools only do we find a brief
period of auditorium exercises devoted to this vital branch of study.
"Statistics show that only about one fourth of the theatre-going children ever participated in acting either in school plays or elsewhere. Most of the teachers make no practice of having stories acted, or of giving school plays." The whole work is voluntary, and is usually done by the enthusiastic teachers only. Where ever it has been tried it has proved very successful. The trouble is, however, it isn't even tried enough. Even in the schools where plays are given, usually the best students in English are selected for them. The poorer ones, who really need the stimulaing experience, are left without it. This has been true because time does not give the opportunity for benefitting the poorer students. The chief aim in the present school dramatics is the production of a finished performance. Nor are the poorer students benefitted by the existence of English clubs. These are usually limited to the best and talented students of the school.
In view of the foregoing discussion, it can be clearly seen that some measures must be taken to introduce more effective instruction in the drama in our Junior High Schools. I believe that the time has come for the educators to consider the institution of drama as an important human institution, and accord it a proper recognition in the formation of Junior High School curricula. The benefits of training the dramatic instinct should be extended to as many children as possible. For this purpose the subject must be made departmental. The schools must institute a department of drama. A school having about twenty-five teachers on its staff ought to have such a department. This will leave the schools in the smaller towns without the additional expense. Nevertheless, the smaller Junior High Schools should not neglect this important education, and should delegate it to special teachers in oratory and debating, and only in exceptional cases to the teachers of English. In such cases, regular programs of study in the drama should be worked out by the principals or superintendents, and special pay should be given for the time spent on drama.