Warning: This post is based on huge assumption, for which I have no factual basis. Someday, if I go back to school, I think I will do my Master's thesis on this, with lots of research. But for now, all conclusions are based on purely anecdotal evidence.
I love to read. I started reading pretty early, and read everything I could. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my dad's lap while he read Bernstein Bears and Dr. Seuss books to my sister and I (my dad loved the rhymes). I found books so much more interesting than real life that I would narrate my life, wanting it to be part of a book, frequently adding "She said" to the end of my sentences (Yeah, I was a dorky kid). My parents doubled our allowance if we wanted to used the money to buy books. I still spend a ridiculous amount of money on books. And now, with iBooks, I read more than ever.
I realize there are plenty of people, kids especially, who don't love reading. Reading is hard. Or tedious. Or boring, because they are forced to do it. But for me, reading, like theatre, is transportation to another world, involvement in other people's lives. It's magical.
My friend Steve and I have this theory that "Good Actors are Good Readers". In our work with actors, whether as other players or as directors, we have found a striking similarity among those actors (of any age) with good instincts and a solid understanding of the text they are given, able to inflect and contextualize properly-- They love to read. These actors love words, language, story. As they savor language, they are learning- new vocabulary, meanings of punctuation, how to craft a story to keep outsiders interested. All things they need to know to deliver an excellent performance.
I'm not saying there aren't excellent actors out there who hate to read. Or even for whom reading is difficult, and they dread the table-read, knowing they will struggle. But in my experience, the good actors are also good readers. They have developed an unconscious ability to interpret text and see how each sentence is part of the larger story.
Which leads me to another non-fact based idea. Parent and teachers are encouraged to read aloud to children. It immerses them in language- the phonetics, sentence construction, and over-arching story structure. Children, however, tend to dread reading out loud. What if those sessions of audible reading were no longer sitting in a classroom, taking turns reading paragraphs? What if those became mini-plays?
There are very few children who don't want to be in a play! Even introverted children are often excited to be a flower or a tree, something that could stand and absorb, rather than be front and center. The children would still get the language immersion; auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and textual learners would all have their learning styles addressed. And, perhaps most importantly, children will see books and living, breathing sources of entertainment, interaction and information.
I know some of you are thinking, "We already do that with Shakespeare, and it doesn't work." Well, of course not. It's too late by then. If we have instilled an appreciation for reading, and reading aloud, from a young age, it won't be awkward by the time students get to high school. But, if Shakespeare is the main thing we ask our students to read aloud and perform, no wonder they hate it. I know many excellent actors and readers who struggle with the language and rhythm of Shakespeare. The Old English is almost a foreign language. And, like a second tongue, it takes time to learn, to understand. But if students are not worried about looking or sounding dumb in front of their peers (because they've been doing similar exercises since first grade), then we can more easily move into comprehension and meaning.
So, I think my theory is twofold. "Good actors are good readers. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that acting can instill an appreciation of reading."
What do you think? Is my non-fact based theory crap? Does anyone have statistics to defend or dispute this? Is my conclusion an exercise with exploring in education?