Dear California Alliance for Arts Education…
My name is Regina Leon. I am a freshman who attends San Francisco State University and proudly majors in Drama. I am, additionally, a young Hispanic girl who values her family and yearns to make them proud. Normally, being in a traditional Hispanic family demands a great deal from you: not going to college to help family or going to college to study a profession that hands you money, not happiness. I have been fortunate enough to be part of a family who value my individuality. I have always wanted to be an actress; precisely because it brings me peace and tranquility.
Recently, I have been learning through long hours of studying and a rigorous work load that peace and tranquility are what students need in order to succeed. Taking a moment to breathe and be mindful can alleviate a student’s chance of completing their homework. Therefore, I strongly believe that all drama, specifically acting, classes should incorporate mental health techniques and emphasize the psychological benefits of drama through acting exercises.
If this is not ever considered, then Beverly’s story will replicate over and over again. Beverly was a girl who went to the same high school as me. We took an acting class together, and she was dedicated to every character she received. It, however, did not come naturally… Her father was a drama professor and taught students how to “become” their characters. Becoming a character can lead to unhealthy consequences, and, unfortunately, Beverly did not know.
Beverly and I were in a play called The Good Doctor by Neil Simon, and she was cast as the head lady of the night. The play was set in the late 1800’s, thus if you don’t know what a lady of the night is, here is a synonym: prostitute. Her character, known as her “Girl” in the play, had sex with boys on their 18th birthday. Beverly, still being a virgin, did not relate to her in any way. I remember reminding her that we are in high school, thus connecting to her character was unnecessary. However, she was determined and knew that losing her virginity was her only choice to become the head lady of the night. Alas, the story ends badly. Beverly loses her virginity, states that, “Coming to rehearsals is unnecessary because she is her character,” and gets pulled out of the show because her actions have hurt herself and others. She became very depressed and sad after losing her virginity. She lost it to someone she did not know at all.
Her father ultimately learned from this and understood that teaching students how to become a character was peculiar. My drama teacher began reminding students to stay grounded by practicing meditation and concentration exercises. I personally started noticing a change in myself as well. Every time I felt pressured, sad, or anxious, I would meditate and concentrate on other things. I believe that these practices could have taught Beverly to organize her thoughts in a way that wouldn’t have driven her mad. Adding and incorporating mental health techniques into every acting class can target two types of people: the overly-determined artists and the mentally unstable.
The California Alliance for Arts Education is known for advocating and enforcing the presence of arts in schools. I understand that you must be saying, “Let’s save art classes and not get ahead of ourselves.” However, I think that emphasizing the psychological benefits of acting can persuade the U.S. Department of Education to listen to you. “Why?” you may ask. After a long hour of science or math, students can get agitated. An acting class can get them excited for school, whilst calming them down with specific acting exercises. Special education students can greatly benefit from an acting class: A student with ADHD can gain tranquility from a concentration-based acting exercise.
Most importantly, students can gain perspective and appreciation of life in an acting class. All students can benefit from a mental-health-driven acting class! Acting is a tool that has helped my mental health positively. I believe that this idea can flourish greatly with more support. Acting is another form of psychology. Acting students study people. Not only will this benefit my cause, but strengthen your cause!