In March, more than 25 students took the stage in Merion Mercy Musical Theater’s spring production of “James and the Giant Peach.” More recently, about 80 girls shared their vocal and instrumental talents during the school’s spring concert. Eleven girls are majoring in the performing arts at MMA, and five additional music scholars have been admitted and six vocal grants were awarded for the incoming class. The number of Merion Mercy students involved in music or theater speaks to the appeal of performing, and related research has found—beyond being fun and fulfilling—participating in the performing arts can provide numerous benefits that help students both in and outside of school:
Forming close and lasting friendships. Cello player Sarah D'Alessandro ‘25 says she finds joy in “jamming” together with fellow musicians and describes the satisfaction of playing well with others as “a feeling that you can't match.” She even enjoys the rigors of practice, but it’s the relationships that she most appreciates. “In theater, you form such a close community and all work together to tell a story. Joining the musical was definitely one of the best decisions I have ever made. I met some of my closest friends.”
Building confidence and self-esteem. Taking on a role in a play or performing in a concert can be an intimidating experience, but in the process, students learn how to control their nerves in high-pressure situations. Completing the task can ultimately be a huge boost to one's sense of self-worth.
Developing teamwork and collaboration skills. In many cases, putting on a successful performance requires the coordination of many different people, from actors and musicians to technicians and stagehands. MMA’s Chair of the Performing Arts, Dr. Cara Latham, says, “In ensembles we work as a single unit to bring beauty to life, and this process brings us closer together, uniformly striving for the powerful communication of wonder.”
Learning how to work together as a team can help students with group projects in the classroom and collaboration in the workplace.
Performing better in math and science. Research has shown that learning to read music and keep a beat can help develop the same parts of the brain that are used for spatial reasoning and problem-solving.
Developing a sense of cultural awareness and appreciation/empathy for others. Many plays, musicals, and other performances explore themes and cultures that students might not otherwise encounter in their day-to-day lives. Exposure to these new ideas and perspectives can help students develop empathy and understanding for others, which is a valuable trait in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.
Merion Mercy Music Theater (MMMT) Director Chris Monaco concurs:
“The performing arts are all-encompassing—they give us greater access to understanding one another. Observing and interacting with another person's art gives us a unique window into who they are at the core. Song, written word, dance, imagery—any artistic way that one renders their heart for the rest of the world to see gives us an important piece to fit into the great puzzle that is humanity. We learn to be collaborators and empaths. We can interact with history in real time by reviving the art created by those who came before us."
Encouraging self-expression. In addition to helping us better understand others, the arts allow us to reveal our true selves. Sophomore Alex Segreti says, “Through the performing arts I can fully express myself in ways that are impossible in classes. I'm able to communicate countless emotions, moods, and mindsets.”
Monaco believes, “In many ways, the performing arts have fundamentally shaped me as a person. Creating our own art allows for greater expression of our souls than any other medium.”
Madison McCormick ‘25, who describes theater as her favorite Merion Mercy memory, agrees with Monaco’s sentiments. “Theater has taught me everything I know about myself and others.”
Dr. Latham sums it up best when she says, “Music and theater education enables students to grow in generosity, discipline, teamwork, intellect, and the experience of creating something beautiful!”
Have memories of performing? Share them in the comments below!