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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Conference stresses need for theater arts in schools

School of Education and American Alliance for Theatre and Education hosting daylong workshop

April 20, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As budget cuts put arts programs across the country on the chopping block, a conference will present discussions about keeping the theater arts in schools. "Now More Than Ever: Vital Arts in Trying Times" is a conference sponsored by the Department of Literacy, Culture and Language Education in the Indiana University School of Education and the American Alliance for Theater and Education (AATE). The event goes from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday (April 24) at the Wright Education Building on the IU Bloomington campus.

The conference will focus on helping teachers create engaging and active classrooms by incorporating drama and theater into all parts of the curriculum. "It will provide teachers with the opportunity to come in, learn about drama and theater strategies and how they can integrate those into their curriculum, from math to science to the language arts," said Gus Weltsek, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Literacy, Culture and Language Education and one of the IU faculty coordinating the event.

The conference includes workshops by some of the world's most recognized experts at integrating theater into the curriculum. Brian Edmiston, an associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State University who runs OSU's pre-service K-12 licensure program in drama education, will present a workshop based around his primary fields of research -- dramatic play and dramatic inquiry. "He will lead the participants through a hands-on workshop showing them how to apply this very effective 'Mantle of the Expert' strategy," Weltsek said. The method involves students taking on the roles of an expert in the field they are studying. "They create a fictional world where they utilize the concepts and curriculum of that specific subject area as a way to solve problems," Weltsek said.

Other sessions include Carmine Tabone, executive director of the Educational Arts Team, a New Jersey-based center studying ways to use arts in teaching since 1974. Tabone's research links a rise in standardized test scores to using drama and theater in the schools.

Carmen Medina, IU assistant professor in the Department of Literacy, Culture and Language Education, will speak about theater as social justice in elementary schools. More topics include using drama with English as a second language students and using drama and theater in secondary schools.

The day also will include a "fireside chat," focusing on the difficult financial conditions facing theater programs in schools today. Dorothy Webb, artistic director of the Bonderman Playwriting for Youth National Conference and Symposium conducted with the Indiana Repertory Theatre, and Charles Railsback, of the IU Department of Theatre and Drama, will participate in a discussion particularly focusing on the situation in Indiana. "That is going to be a space to talk about the struggles we'll be facing collectively as teachers who want to do in our classrooms unique, groundbreaking and very effective work that doesn't seem to have the support financially or pedagogically in our schools," Weltsek said. Discussion will center on fundraising and volunteer help for school drama projects, but Weltsek indicated the sessions will have long-term stability as a goal.

"One of the things that this conference is really going to stress is the place that drama and theater education can have within the entire curriculum," he said. "In this way, it's kind of moving away from our absolute need to have those performances and looking at ways we can integrate the use of drama and theater within our daily curriculum. It's kind of a safeguard, a way to make it integral to the work that we do and not having to rely on those after-school programs."

Indiana teachers can earn certification renewal units (CRUs) through the conference. Fees for the conference include a student rate. Limited full scholarships covering the conference cost are available. Online registration for the conference is available at Participants can register on site Saturday before the workshop. For further information, contact Gus Weltsek at