Theatres are a vital educational, creative and economic resource to communities
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A Shakespeare quotation from “The Tempest” has famously been adapted over the years to read, “Politics makes for strange bedfellows.” And it was fittingly enough during a recording for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual Will on the Hill event that we had the opportunity to rehearse and perform a partnered scene together. While we do not always agree on policies and budget priorities, we should always find opportunities to listen, reach across the aisle, and work together — especially when it comes to acknowledging the importance of arts education and America’s vital arts and cultural institutions.

Will on the Hill is a fundraiser for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s many educational programs, such as free student matinees to all DC Public and Public Charter high schools, which serve student populations typically classified as economically disadvantaged. Student matinees bring students from the D.C. area into the theatre to attend a full production and compliment the experience with professional teaching artist-led workshops to prepare for the performance and post-performance discussions with the actors, while highlighting the theatre as a welcoming space for learning. Teachers receive professional development workshops and are offered the chance to see a preview performance prior to their class to prepare accompanying lesson plans.

Studies point to numerous benefits that arts education opportunities provide. Students who engage in the arts have more positive academic outcomes because engaging with the arts develops students’ critical thinking skills, creativity, and problem-solving ability. In high-needs student populations, arts education experiences can be tied to higher student achievement, graduation rates, and even college attendance. And live theater, specifically, has been shown to enhance students’ experience of understanding literature while positively impacting their social interactions with others. Student matinees are a time-tested effort that seeks to provide these benefits to high school students across the region.

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But, doing this event is not about just this particular theatre’s educational programming, however. During the pandemic, as students were educated from home — we saw how many museums, theatres, and other cultural institutions across the nation stepped up, adapted their programming to become digital, and reached students in exciting and compelling ways. This is in addition to the varied types of educational programming that they have always done and for learners from infants to senior citizens.

This is what theatres do — they bring people together, to laugh, think, grow, and learn. And while we may first think of New York City’s Broadway, regional theatres across America have also been closed for over a year due to the pandemic. Regional theatres employ not only actors but highly skilled creatives, designers, builders, and theatre workers, while bringing in tourists, stimulating local economies, and making positive changes to their immediate neighborhoods, such as creating opportunities for more restaurants, hotels, and eventually more cultural institutions, too.

We have both supported the arts and arts education in our local districts, across our states, and while working in Congress, across the nation. Shakespeare was right, of course, that politics can pull us together in new ways instead of always apart, but sometimes it is the arts that pulls us into new positive directions, and very possibly, into new ways of thinking about politics, too.

Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOmar feuds with Jewish Democrats Shakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' Theatres are a vital educational, creative and economic resource to communities MORE represents the 23rd District of Florida and Beth Van Duyne represents the 24th District of Texas.