Reading a play is one thing, but seeing it performed live is another. And while I believe one can get a lot out of reading one, more can be gained from seeing in person. If you’re feeling doubtful, let me cue up some recent research from the University of Arkansas.
In a new study, researchers found that students who attended high-quality theater productions gained better knowledge of a play’s plot, increased their vocabularies, grew their tolerances, and improved their abilities to read other people’s emotions.
“What we determined from this research is that seeing live theater produced positive effects that reading a play or watching a movie of the play does not produce,” said Jay Greene, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. “Plays are meant to be seen performed live. You can’t always take your kids to a play but if you can, you should. The story can be conveyed in a movie, but it doesn’t engage the viewer in the same way.”
The researchers studied a group of random students, grades 7 through 12, who saw productions of Hamlet and A Christmas Carol. Some participants in the control group and the treatment group also watched movie versions or read the play.
Surveys were then administered around six weeks after the performances. Students who attended the live productions improved their knowledge of the play by a large margin compared to the control group. For example, more than 94 percent of the live-attendance group knew that Ophelia drowns in Hamlet (spoiler alert!), compared to 62 percent of the control group. The students who attended a live performance also scored higher on tolerance and emotional measures compared to the control group.
The study, “Learning from Live Theater: Students realize gains in knowledge, tolerance, and more” is available on the Education Next website.