If all the world’s a stage, isn’t it your duty as a thespian to explore that stage?! We think so. And if you think so too, volunteering in drama abroad could be the best way to do it. Whether you have years of experience as an actor or if you just recently joined a tech team backstage, you will find there are drama volunteer opportunities for you. Not only will you get to see another side of the globe, you’ll get to share your joy of theater with kids and youth who may have limited (or maybe even no!) exposure to the arts. Break a leg and become a theater volunteer abroad!
Why Volunteer Abroad
There’s something about theater that just lights you up, right? Imagine passing that light onto a young girl or boy (a future playwright, you say?!) and creating a connection with someone across the world. Volunteering in theater abroad is largely youth-based, so if you enjoy working with kids, it’s a win-win! And the great thing is, there are a wide range of experiences you can get. By becoming a theater volunteer abroad, you can gain knowledge of international theater, see how theater impacts different communities and populations, and develop as a creative leader through leading workshops and activities. While volunteering in theater abroad you’ll simultaneously give marginalized groups of children skills and resources and have fun!
One benefit of theater volunteering abroad is that theater is universal. Actors, directors, and writers span the globe, and in that sense, the stage (whether an actual stage or the front area of a room) can become a “universal language” for storytellers. So it becomes even more important if your ACTUAL languages differ!
Due to the universality of theater, you will be able to find opportunities to become a drama volunteer all over the world; however, the locations with the most theater volunteer programs tend to be in developing countries that lack a great deal of special services and opportunities for youth. NGOs in these areas often offer special youth programs to supplement the type of arts and sports activities they don’t get in school, yet still may not have enough resources or staff to provide consistent and high quality programming. Enter: your chance to raise the spotlight and become a standing-ovation worthy theater volunteer abroad!
In Africa, specifically in Uganda, South Africa, and Kenya, theater volunteers can work in slums and other marginalized communities offering support for youth drama programs, which are typically focused on building self-esteem, motivation, discipline, and hope amongst local youth. Even more, you will be immersed in the rare and unique human spirit that only Africa can offer.
Volunteering in theater in South America or Central America will give you a similar opportunity to empower youth through drama and theater education programs. An added bonus of volunteering in places like Argentina and Costa Rica is the opportunity to learn and practice Spanish! West Side Story casting calls soon??
Finally, because theater is loved and appreciated in all corners of the world, volunteer hopefuls can find opportunities to volunteer in theater in any size city, from large cities like Bangkok to more remote and “far off” places like the Galapagos Islands. Traveling to the Galapagos is a midsummer-night's-dream for a lot of people, and YOU could go there to not only see the picturesque landscape and volcanoes, but also make a positive impact on local children.
From sea to sand, from backstage to front of house, you have your choice on where to set the scene for your theater volunteering abroad.
Theater Volunteer Programs Abroad
The greatest thing about volunteering in drama and theater abroad is that no matter what your experience level, you will be able to incorporate your skills into your volunteer work in either a large or small way.
If you are a drama pro, you will have the opportunity to volunteer and work alongside a local theater group. In these types of theater volunteer programs, you will learn more about theater, the context and role it has within different cultures, and the impact it has on society and social structures. You may focus on the actual performance aspect to showcase the talents of local youth, or the administration aspect to bring theater to different communities.
If you are new to drama yourself or haven’t been to a sound check in years, you can still find theater volunteer opportunities for you. Often times you won’t even need a theater-specific volunteer program to showcase your drama skills abroad. Youth development is HUGE when it comes to theater volunteering abroad. Volunteers are typically given the independence and freedom to come up with their own activities to enrich the lives of youth in most youth development volunteer programs. If you know some theater games, how to run a one-act skit, or can combine theater with another music or dance, perfect! “The arts” as a whole are seen as very valuable to bring into the lives of children, so the more you want to offer, even in a very basic way, the better!
With such flexibility and a range of theater volunteer opportunities in both structure and length of stay, it could be extremely difficult to choose just one. So, if you are volunteering abroad in theater for the LOVE of drama, the script you follow is up to you! Staying longer will lead to the ability to both give and learn more, but even a week long volunteer trip can be rewarding for all involved. On the other hand, if you are pursuing a career in theater, a longer-term theater volunteer program will enable you to truly grasp its context in a different setting and use all that you learn to help shape your career.
Benefits & Challenges
Both a benefit and challenge of volunteering in drama abroad is differences in language. While the challenge is an obvious one, the benefits are more subtle. There is, of course, the benefit of learning and practicing a new language, but there is also the benefit of studying body cues and intonation. Learning to communicate non-verbally, or at least not through the same language, will help you pick up on body language, tone of voice, and other non-verbal ways of communication. This can greatly enhance your ability to project emotion and personality on stage, as well as know how to direct someone else in doing the same.
Another benefit of theater volunteering abroad is the chance to develop leadership skills. You will likely be given a great deal of freedom and be able to design “lesson plans,” workshops, and more for groups of youth as a theater volunteer abroad. This type of leadership development and practice is a like a dress rehearsal for a future in ANY profession!
No matter what your reason for volunteering in theater abroad, it seems clear that you will make a difference in the community you are part of. If it is through a child you inspire, a mom you give hope to, or a theater company you offer a different perspective to, with little effort you will be able to create a big impact. Your role isn’t set to be casted...it’s yours to create; how many times does that type of opportunity come along!?