The Play’s the Thing: What Students Learn from Live Theater

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Event Type: 
Brown Bag
Date and Time: 
Thursday, April 23, 2015
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Jay Greene
University of Arkansas

To assess what students learn from seeing live theater, 69 school groups with 942 participating students were offered the opportunity to receive free tickets to attend professional productions of Hamlet, A Christmas Carol, and Around the World in 80 Days.  Applicant groups were organized into 34 matched groups and lotteries were held within each group to determine which applicants would attend and which would serve as control.  All participating students were surveyed in their classrooms on average 44 days after the treatment group within their matched group saw the play.  We found that students whose groups won the lottery and were able to see the play were significantly more knowledgeable about the plot and vocabulary of the plays than were the control students.  Being assigned to read the works had no effect on student knowledge of plot and vocabulary and watching a film version had substantially smaller benefits than seeing the live performance.  Students who saw the play also scored significantly higher on scales measuring their tolerance and satisfaction with life.  Our findings suggest that live theater effectively conveys information and appears to have effects on student values and orientations toward life.