Theatre as the Essential Liberal Art in the American University

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This is the first work to construct a unified theory of educational theatre and suggest ways in which that theory may apply to everything from curriculum to educational theatre design. Part One investigates learning theories and suggests that educational theatre might be a nearly perfect paradigm for those theories. Part Two offers a sample curriculum and what that curriculum requires of the theatre facility. While supporting the possibility that a minority of students might achieve a career in theatre, it stresses the reality that most will not. Preparing this majority – through theatre education – for a broader array of futures requires a reassessment of goals and resources.


“Thomas Gressler’s book is the ultimate think-piece concerning the place of theatre as a liberal art. It should be read by every college administrator and must be owned by every drama teacher, especially those who go toe-to-toe with administration on a regular basis. . . . Gressler’s work is at once both innovative and traditional. He elaborates on the ideas and observation of recent research in higher education, using Kolb and Gardener as a theatre base. . . . Gressler presents an irrefutable case for the study of drama as a core human experience. The discussion tying the work of Howard Gardener and multiple intelligences provides us with the most innovative approach to understanding theatre as a viable liberal art. . . . his explicit and detailed description for every course gives us an almost encyclopedic rationale for the development and maintenance of a small theatre department. . . . Gressler’s book is wholly remarkable. . . . The book is for all in educational theatre, and it should serve as a reminder to the professional world of the vales of the liberal arts education.” – George Caldwell

“. . . the arguments put forth here – some that, in one form or another, all of us who have had to defend programs have used – are logically, eloquently and passionately set down, and spring from a theoretical base that uses the tools of Howard Gardner, David Kolb, David Goleman and Heidi Jacobs. . . . There is no question that those of us involved in theatre education would benefit from having Gressler’s book at our elbow; it gives substance to much of what we have thought and lends critical volume to our arguments. . . . We should tell our critical and analytical colleagues that there’s a book we think they would enjoy, a book that answers the question, ‘What do you guys do anyway?’” – Roy S. Fluhrer

Table of Contents

Table of contents: (main headings)
Foreword; Preface; Prologue
1. Introduction
2. Why Is It Essential?
3. The Liberal Arts in the Theatre Curriculum
4. How Does Theatre Provide Exceptional Learning Opportunities? Experiential Learning Theory of David Kolb; Experiential Learning and Theatre Education; Multiple Intelligences and Theatre Education; Emotional Intelligences and Theatre Education; Good Practice in Undergraduate Education; Integrated Learning
5. The Product vs. Process Dilemma; Product Approach; Process Approach; Excellence in College Theatre; Liberal Arts Theatre Education and the Real World
6. The Liberal Arts Theatre Curriculum and Its Learning/Performing Facility. Curriculum: Performance; Design, History, Specialty Courses, Integration; Electives; Practica. Facility: Purpose, Main Spaces, Stage, Acting/Directing Classroom; Design Classroom; Make-up Classroom; Business/Promotion Classroom; Other; Semiotics of Educational Theatre Spaces
7. Obstacles and Challenges to Educational Theatre: Prejudice; Ignorance; Materialism; Difficulty of Making Cognitive Judgments; Challenges; Hope for the Future; Burnout
8. So Why Do We Do It?
Appendices; Bibliography; Index

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