At the Core: Living History

by Juliet Hart

in Education,Tools & Research

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(This essay was originally featured in TCG’s Special Report on Education 2012: Arts Education at the Core (PDF). That report shares findings from the over 100 theatres that participated in the TCG Education Survey 2012, along with essays from leading theatre education directors on the impact of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on arts education, and CCSS resources from the past year. If you have your own arts education/CCSS story to share, please email Gus Schulenburg to learn how to participate.)

TimeLine’s mission of presenting theatre inspired by history that connects to today’s social and political issues allows us to work with social science and language arts teachers on curriculum-centric programming that encourages students to connect the dramatic work they study to the social and political landscape they live in. Living History classroom activities encourage students to explore what it feels like to inhabit the cultural and emotional “shoes” of a character living within a specific historical and social context. At TimeLine, we began learning about the Common Core State Standards as soon as information became available and with the support of programming presented by Ingenuity Inc., Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Illinois Arts Alliance.

Integrating the Common Core with our program goals, lesson plans and curriculum has been an organic process. Since TimeLine’s signature is providing rich historical context and extensive dramaturgy for our audiences, adopting the Common Core standards has been a relatively natural transition. For example, by weaving non-fiction dramaturgical information into our lesson plans, study guides and curriculum, our students acquire domain specific vocabulary, and the confidence to use it during lively classroom discussions about the dramatic text we are studying and rehearsing.

We find that the new standards can highlight values that TimeLine brings to a residency (deep conversation, learning about a new historical event or seeing a historical event through a new perspective, listening and self-expression). We work to ensure that TimeLine residencies help teachers integrate the standards into their curriculum. Each TimeLine residency is developed collaboratively with the classroom teacher to accomplish program goals and address Common Core standards and the school’s unique culture and curriculum. I think the key issue moving forward for all educators will be integration:  how can the standards support (not confine or restrict) teaching goals, and each school’s unique population?  I think the complicated answer lies in creative learning that motivates students, teaching artists and classroom teachers to dig deeper into a dramatic text.

Keeping that in mind, a TimeLine residency is aligned with the following Common Core Standards:

  • Speaking and Listening Standards for Comprehension and Collaboration:
    Students engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher/teaching artist led) building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • Key Ideas and Details:
    Students determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, and can also provide an objective summary of the text. This is accomplished through close reading of a script and the introduction of script analysis skills.
  • Reading Standards for Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
    Students compare and contrast fictional portrayals of historical characters from dramatic texts and a non-fiction historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.

Spending more time on a text, reading it more deeply and supporting cross-discipline collaboration is another key design point that excites us about the Common Core standards. These are also key values in the theatre arts, and we look forward to advocating for more ways to champion these values in cooperation with classroom teachers.


Juliet Hart is a founding member of TimeLine Theatre Company, where she serves as Director of Education and appears regularly onstage.  Juliet holds an M.F.A in Acting from The Theatre School, DePaul University. She began her career as an intern at The Kennedy Center, in the Education Department and for their Theatre for Young People program.  Juliet has taught drama at Prairie State College and worked in many Chicagoland public and private schools as a teaching artist.  She is actively involved with TCG’s Education Directors Group, has presented at CAPE’s Arts Assessment Swapmeet, and has co-presented on active approaches to drama in the classroom for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English.  Juliet currently is participating on a learning team for arts advocacy with Chicago’s Arts Educator Forum (CAEF).