Film vs. Theatre: Engaging Young People in Off-Screen Drama

It seems like a lost cause to educate young people in drama these days with the accessibility of TV shows and movies. Is it no longer worthwhile to try and engage our young people in drama, such as children, teenagers and young adults, simply because the modern world rarely operates off-screen? Are plays as a form of entertainment, and play-writing as a form of literature, meaningful investments for the people of tomorrow? Do the outcomes enact positive change for the world of tomorrow? In a screen-driven society, it seems that drama is represented by things like merely one single high-school musical in the lives of most young people, leaving its various possibilities unexplored.

There are many economical and artistic advantages of drama, however, particularly in contrast to film-making. Drama offers its audiences and actors the added benefit of the live experience, renowned and respected for its raw, real art form. The art form of live performance theatre offers various benefits to all of those involved and provides those transferable skills and qualities we can all benefit from as a society. As a result, we should be educating our young people in the elements of drama, regardless of what sector they choose to work in later on down the road.

The Benefits of Drama to the Performer

Speakers on Stage

It is important to educate young people in drama in our schools because it can enable them to grow with their peers. With interactions taking place in the classroom and outside of the home, where most on-screen works are seen, students are engaging in a more social experience in schools that allows them to grow in a healthy, diverse way. That is not to say that the content or quality on-screen cannot educate our young people in positive ways. Rather, it is an entirely different ball-game to be alone in one’s living room or bedroom and than it is to be in front of a large crowd.

The benefits of drama to students starts with one of the most difficult qualities to foster in young people, self-confidence. It can take years for us as humans to build up enough momentum to be comfortable sharing our thoughts with others, but it becomes a necessary tactic to success later on in life regardless of the industry you’re in. You have to interact with others, and you need to be confident in what you are saying and doing so that other people will trust and respect you.

Performers on Stage

Another benefit to the performer is that you will learn to know yourself. Through movement and language, singing, talking, walking and dancing, you learn about who you are as a person because of how you express yourself. Knowing who you are is an effective way of guiding yourself through life wisely because you will know what you want and how you operate, and necessary to foster from a young age. On top of that, it is a great way to educate children how to speak and read, from the basic forms up to the most creative and didactic.

With the ability to communicate soundly and wisely, our young people can lead successfully in their future roles of society because they will be able to forge effective relationships, produce high-quality innovations, and manage difficult situations with developed problem-solving skills. Not only does drama educate one in how to read, speak, and act, but it also has added benefits such as critical thinking skills and creative outside-of-the-box perspectives from the content one is learning.

Moreover, the content of plays is important to teach in both performance theatre courses as well as literary English classes because of its dualism of rewards. Beyond the basic abilities of being literate, one learns about a variety of literary devices and components that go into creating the narratives that hold our gaze in all forms of texts, whether it be TV, video games, books or magazines. Understanding these underlying pieces through both acting and dissecting will lead to a full understanding of other encountered narratives in future, the primary form of representation we have in our world.

The Benefits of Drama for the Audience


For the audience, the clear benefit of live performance over on-screen film and TV shows is the experience of connection it offers. You can watch performers in their raw form, from start to finish. It seems much more entertaining to watch real people in front of us as opposed to a flat screen because we feel a connection to the performers in front of us on stage, making them appear as characters no longer. Interestingly, this is also a benefit to the performers because they get to experience their work live as well. In a film, it takes much longer than 120 minutes to take and re-take scenes, whereas a drama performance has to be done in one go, heightening the value of the experience because of its skill level.

Drama Education in the Modern World

With the onslaught of film and TV productions in the rise of the digital age, it seems that live theatre is no longer valuable to teach when juxtaposed to on-screen works. What does drama education look like in the modern world?

In my City, there are programs we have in place to allow local artists to be paired up with elementary school classes for several weeks with high-intensity arts programming in which students learn how to approach other subjects through art. In particular, drama is used to teach children about culture and history, such as the Museum School program where students are taken out of the classroom for the activities. With the intention of bringing the education process full circle from the classroom, the City also offers an artist in residence program where artists join students in the classroom to compliment the in-field exposure of Museum School.

There are, of course, other forms of drama in the modern world, in both performance and literary education, but the accessibility of these programs is low. It is critical that we continue to educate and engage our young people in multiple art forms, particularly drama as a form of live, personal expression. Although the modern age has made many things such as art seem like part of a dying age, it is important to keep them in our schools, spaces, and workplaces to continue making life meaningful. Art is the fuel of life that allows us to feel alive because of its enriching qualities, so do not keep calm, and please do be dramatic.


What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Aaron Hatch

    Fantastic article. Theater is important because it gives our youth the chance to show of their acting talent for the first time. This may not be the same for getting a role in movie, mostly because it is hard to service in the Hollywood market.

  2. Xiomara

    I’m going through a huge journey right now transitioning from being a theatre actor to film, and I’m having tons of epiphanies lately. With theatre I’ve got every beat mapped out, and I know what I’m doing with every single part of my body and mind.

  3. TuanTuan

    In theatre you can watch what you want when you want and this is one of the great freedoms and rewards of theatre. It may not show you the mountain but if it is good, the character will tell you about a mountain with such passion and connection that you will see it clearly in your mind.

  4. What I like about theatre is the fact of a group of actors performing a ‘story’ live, in front of me. There’s something awe inspiring, sometimes, about theatre being this live experience, with its immediacy, and it’s staggering to think that the actors are doing this six times a week, sometimes for many weeks/months.

    With a film, I know that it is very often made up of multiple fragments, filmed independently and then spliced together. Is it therefore a product primarily of the actors (as in the theatre) or a product of the technicians and director? That’s OK but it’s different to a play, played out live, in a theatre.

  5. As an actor theatre is or can be a mutually active experience. The more you invest in the actors the more you’ll get out of it.

  6. DClarke

    It is interesting to think of something that some of us take for granted as being something that is losing grip in the modern world. I think that it is essential to have the next generation learn about the wonders of theatre, whether that is performance side or the audience/reader side. Good to see an article challenging the shifting “norms” of education

  7. Abhimanyu Shekhar

    Very interesting article… what you outline is a must-read for moviegoers and theater-workers alike. I liked the part about the benefits of drama for the performers. However, one thing that has been missed which makes films actually better is the VFX. (I just remembered it!) That makes real life drama quite weak. You cannot imagine fast-paced, action stories depicted in drama. Similarly, anything that has to do with some bit of supernatural is automatically incompatible for a real life show.

    • Katheryn

      It’s true that theatre can’t compete when it comes to special effects and the elements of film such as cutaway shots, multiple POVs, CGI, etc. But F/X in the theatre have come a long way, and continues to expand and refine as technology improves. Venues that can access this technology (usually theatres that have heavy endowments and can afford to) are able to do all sorts of amazing “tricks” onstage.
      However, a big part of going to the theatre is the tacit agreement made between audience and actor that says, ‘In order to be entertained, you must enter into a suspension of disbelief’; that is to say, to be aware that what you are seeing is not meant to be reality (whereas film’s goal is usually to attempt to portray reality as much as possible, especially as CGI gets more and more sophisticated). That’s not theatre’s purpose or goal, but rather to focus on story and engagement between actor and audience. So determining which is “better” isn’t possible; it’s a comparison of apples and oranges. One isn’t meant to be the other. But people will definitely have their opinions as to which one they prefer.

  8. Rachel Watson

    This is a very wonderful and relevant article! I love that you included a section about the benefits of dramatic performance for the performers, especially in the context of adolescents. A group of high school students creating a film–even one that involves the same level of acting talent–simply does not foster the same emotional investment. In film there can always be multiple takes of the same scene, and then the best one can be selected; in theatre, we can let our guards down and respect one another for the mistakes we make, but also for the triumphs we have. The idea of success is different when we know there cannot be “redo” like there can be while filming a movie.

    While watching TV or film, there seems to be a constant self-awareness on the viewer’s part that they are only watching a screen. Theatre allows for the opportunity to blur fantasy and reality, even to extremes. One such theatre practitioner whose contributions show that the experience of film can never come close to that of theatre is Antonin Artaud. He devoted his life’s work to configuring theatrical spectacles that would totally immerse and integrate the audience. The goal was that the audience would leave the spectacle and be truly changed. That is the only problem with the traditional “fourth wall” theatre in which the actors and the audience occupy separate spaces. Somehow this form of theatre can still take on the feeling of watching a film, since the performers pretend like they are not being watched and subsequently have no connection to the audience, just like actors on a screen. In both secondary and higher education, students need to be encouraged by educators to experiment with different performance spaces.

  9. fantastic article!!!

  10. Bautista

    So many differences but what they both essentially serve in common to the audiences who seek them out, is the promise of engaging the imagination.

  11. David Mamet said in an interview I heard once that if you write a good movie, you can turn off the sound and still understand the story. If you write a good play, you can put it on the radio and still understand the story. That pretty much sums up the general division between them as one being a visual and one being a verbal medium.

  12. Jon Cates

    I love the “liveness” of theater and I love the intimacy of film. (and film lasts forever while theater becomes a ghost.)

  13. Theatre:Actor’s art
    Film:Director’s art

  14. Theatre (or any live performance) always dies when filmed as the connection to the audience is lost.

    • Elza Bauer

      So true. If you have ever seen a recording of a speech, gig or theatre show that you have attended the best you can hope for is that it reminds you of the feelings you had at the time..It will never be the same.

  15. kenny lange

    Brilliant read.

  16. people learn acting(how to act, what it means to act etc.)by acting in the theatre and not by doing films.

    • Katheryn

      I disagree. Acting can be learned through both mediums. They are two different styles of acting requiring different skill sets. A person can be an excellent film actor and a terrible stage actor, and vice versa.

  17. DillonBerg

    You can’t really compare them as competitors creatively but can find strong connections between them both.

  18. yaan callaway

    Theatre is a unique experience. It will never be the same as it was the night before or the night after no matter how professional.

  19. Film (and I do love film) is a directors medium.

  20. Thank you for writing it and posting it.

  21. I wouldn’t be so quick to blame modern technology for a disinterest in theatre; John Steinbeck has been quoted as calling theatre “the only institution in the wold which has been dying for four thousand years”. Live theatre will always have an irreplaceable feeling to it, regardless of the era in which it is performed.

  22. It’s thought-provoking how this article places its attention more on the overall life benefits of theater, rather than merely how theater needs to be valued as another art-form for young adults in this age of technology. After all, acting in theater is ultimately synonymous with the persuasive speech of other professions such as politics which depend on convincing an audience to believe in what one is saying. So even if some young adults may not be artistically inclined or interested, theater can still be a valuable tool nonetheless for real-world success.

  23. With a film I always get the feeling that i’m seeing what everyone else saw. With theatre everyone will have a different perspective of each show literally.

  24. I find the debate between film and theatre a reductive one though in that you may as well throw books and music into the same argument for how they are similar and what they deal with best.

  25. Lexzie

    I have been a part of theatre since I was young.
    I think, personally, that one of the greatest accomplishments of theatre is that you cultivate empathy for people who aren’t exactly like you. By portraying a different person, you gain insight into a different perspective. It really is ‘the power of play’ at work.

  26. michael

    Both can be great and both can be terrible.

  27. Create your own tv. Create your own dvds and sell them. Be the star of your own dvds. Id never trade Theater experience to do boring film camera copy.

  28. I went to see a play my friend wrote (and went on about way too much) last week and it was really enjoyable and definitely because of the live element. But I also, more or less, get the same feeling at the cinema too.

  29. It’s not just quality content but a quality experience. Many films don’t benefit as much from a large screen experience or are relegated to smaller screens.

  30. Nof

    This is a unique article. Theater is something we rarely hear about nowadays. I personally don’t love TV with the exception of a few shows, and prefer going to the theater much more than sitting and watching TV.

  31. VelvetRose

    I agree wholeheartedly. Theatre is such an important tool in life, no matter your career path. I took drama all throughout high school and I found it came in handy in a multitude of different areas I never expected it to. It helped me learn sign language easier, memorize speeches and oral presentations, work up the nerve to DO those presentations, effectively convey emotions to others through body language, read faster and more expressively, and how to lead others. Great article on the importance of live performance! I would recommend this to anyone and everyone.

  32. Morgan R. Muller

    Very interesting article! Great job!


    It’s the “acting” side of things that annoys me with theatre. I wish they’d all calm down and stop being so over the top.

  34. Batista

    There are dozens of differences between acting for stage and acting for the camera.

  35. I really enjoyed the article Kathleen. It’s extremely important to emerge theatre into parts of our lives and the lives as children as the benefits are priceless. However I disagree that the modern age has made many things such as art seem like part of a dying age.

    I think we, as first world and western thinkers, define art in the modern age by mainstream media. It doesn’t help that a lot of the mainstream film and television are pretty low quality in the industry, while mainstream theatre is high quality. I think that the modern age isn’t dying out the practice of high quality art but rather creating new ways in which for us to create, and unfortunately we’re just in the static of still figuring out how art fits in with a technological age. But this has allowed for wonderful and new ways to express creativity through any medium, and even to express it through new mediums in which the children of today create.The Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver is an excellent example of creating more interactive theatre experiences.

    It may seem that everyone is turning to a screen and not looking back, but for all the new emerging artists, and current artists, this is a wonderful new day to take on the challenge and opportunity of integrating art into our rapidly changing society, and in giving this power to the artists and the people we are ensuring that it has a place to stay. It’s only up from here.

  36. Great article! I love theatre as it is a way of expression as well as a form which allows us to become characters that are complex and intricate, exposing us to deeper issues – both personal and societal.

  37. Katheryn

    I taught a class at UW-Madison that was essentially Acting for non-majors. There were pre-med majors, lit majors, math majors, business majors, etc. Almost all of them would come in the first day looking unsure; everything from meek to defensive to terrified. But by the end of the semester all had relaxed and learned something new about themselves – namely, courage and confidence. In three years I didn’t have one person who didn’t feel pleased with their effort and development. Theatre can be valuable for everyone in one way or another; especially in educational environments.

  38. ProtoCanon

    You made a brief point about economics that I wish you had discussed further. From a chiefly pedagogical standpoint, schools wishing to engage their students with the performing arts lack the budget to meet the high financial and logistical demands of film, making theatre the more desirable option for arts programming. For similar reasons, children who are stricken with the acting bug more often than not come to the theatre as a more accessible medium to break into. Consequently, the other factors you’ve listed for why live theatre is important seldom comes into consideration from either party.

  39. Nice article, who’s the author?

  40. Thanks for sharing your article about live theatre drama. I like that you talked about how the connection is created between the audience and performers through a live theatre that allows the audience to see the raw form of an artist. For me, I feel more connected to a certain story if I see it live. There’s a big impact that theatre brings to your emotions when you’re watching it live. My sister is curious in live theatre, so I’m considering to watch with her. I believe this will also be a good time to bond with her. We’ll make sure to watch one show as soon as possible.

  41. Ellen Hughes

    It got me when you said that watching live performances is more entertaining because you can feel a connection to the performers that you’re watching. This is something that I will make sure to remember because I’m planning to find a show that my daughter can watch. I wanted her to appreciate what we will watch based on how the actors will perform, so I’ll consider all your tips.

  42. Millie Hue

    I totally agree when you said that it can be more interesting to watch real people in front of you instead of seeing them through screens. With that in mind, I will be taking my whole family to watch such shows as a way to bond. This is perfect this month since my dad will be celebrating his 54th birthday, so this could be the best activity for all of us.

  43. Hello!
    Thank you very much for the article. In fact, this is a wonderful piece of writing that will be beneficial for people involved in the art of theatre and cinema both as professionals and as an amateur. Nowadays, many people consider cinema superior to the theatre for some reason. That is mainly because they can rarely find some special effects on the stage. This article manages to explain the mission of the theatre for those who underestimate it. Specifically, this article manages to come up with arguments that have the potential to persuade young people to value theatre art. What I liked most in this article, was the part of the benefits of drama for the audience as it perfectly explains what can people find watching a theatre performance in contrast to a movie. We are able to see the story “live”, how a group of people creates it at that specific moment in front of our eyes. It is remarkable that the article fights the stereotype that cinema is “better” than the theatre in any sense. What I would like to add is that fact that people should understand that in the theatre performance, the actors have only one chance to attract the audience. The scenes cannot be remade like in the movies, so it is a very tough job.
    Finally, I absolutely agree with the author that drama education is really essential for young people, as it discloses many characteristics of a person. I can tell from my personal experience that it helps a person to reveal hidden aspects of his/her personality. Besides, attending drama courses makes one appreciate theatre the way it deserves.
    This article manages to discuss all these points and I am very thankful to the author for putting down those brilliant ideas.

  44. Arya Smith

    It got me when you said that an actor will be able to become confident in talking to other people because it is what they need to do to be effective in what they say on the stage. This kind of experience might help my son with his issue with his speech. Actually, there is no condition diagnosed, but he is just a shy child since he was not exposed to a lot of people back then due to living in the countryside since he was little. I should send him to theater classes soon.

  45. Tyler Johnson

    That’s a good point that it would be a different experience to see real people in front of you acting instead of on a screen. I would think that make it feel more real to you. I’ll have to try seeing some live plays and see how they compare to a recorded movie.

  46. David Johnson

    My younger sister is writing a play. We appreciated how you mentioned that we need to keep drama as a form alive. We’ll have to look into different things we can do to improve the drama and some of the effects in our play.

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