AATE past presidents reflected on 25 years of efforts to strengthen the role of drama and theatre in schools and the lives of children and youth in a special conference session. Pictured (front row, left to right) are Judith Kase-Cooper, Orlin Corey, Janet Rubin, Joe Juliano and (back row, left to right) Harold Oaks, Coleman Jennings, Joan Lazarus, Betsy Quinn, Kim Alan Wheetley. AATE Past President Rives Collins, not pictured, moderated the discussion. (photo courtesy of the Child Drama Collection, Arizona State University, Tempe, Az.) The theme of this year’s American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) conference was “Looking Back and Charging Ahead.” On the one hand, the nearly 400 conference attendees recently gathered in Lexington, Ky., to celebrate the 25 years AATE has served its membership of teachers and teaching artists, postsecondary educators and researchers, youth theatre companies, playwrights, and advocates. The “looking back” portion included a special session at which a number of the association’s past presidents and other leaders shared stories of the quarter-century-long effort to keep the light shining on the importance of drama and theatre for children and youth.
By the time I arrived on the second day of the conference, the emphasis had shifted to the present and future. My task was to share the recent findings of a nationwide survey of the conditions of arts education, one that also offered comparisons of those conditions of arts teaching and learning with data from 1999-2000—prior to the No Child Left Behind Act. My presentation would unfortunately remind attendees that between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of elementary schools offering instruction in drama and theatre had plummeted from 20 percent to four percent. At the secondary level, the drop was less dramatic but sobering just the same—less than half of secondary schools nationwide offered students the opportunity to study theatre. It’s hard to shine a light on what’s not on the stage.