Children’s Memory of Performance: Discovery, Rediscovery, and Re-creation

How Theatre Impacts and Stays with a Child over the Course of a Year

“You don’t need quantitative data to show that Theatre changes people”, says Elaine Faull, to the workshop attendees on Monday afternoon of the ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering 2019.

And yet nevertheless, her data and other research that she has captured during her work with Theatre Alibi, demonstrates exactly what happens in the time (up to a year) after a child sees a Theatre performance. Talking us through three case studies of her time with Theatre Alibi, Faull detailed her experience with such ferocity and vibrant detail that it felt like we were watching each of the shows she spoke of.

Alongside the posing of questions such as, “how does performance enhance well being?” and “how does teacher intervention impact children?”, she talked us through her research methods, and invited attendees to draw upon their own early memories of Theatre attendance.

For her research, she has broken down the impact that Theatre has on children into three distinct phases: Discovery, Rediscovery, and Re-creation.


The “discovery” phase begins as soon as the curtain falls, the sounds fade, and the characters exit. Faull explained that after a child sees a Performance, there are specific theatrical elements or devices that ‘stay with them’. These might include puppets, theatrical tricks, curiosity, and any connection the child felt like they had to the performance. 


After one to three months, the data is showing that more students had even more positive emotions attached to the experience than they might have had at the time. Even students who had felt sick or ‘bad’ on the day of the performance, remembered their Theatre visit as a positive event overall. In this sense, a creative memory is made.


In a fascinating example, Faull talks about how she visited deaf students a year after they went to see Apple John, a nonverbal show. A group of boys recounts how amazing the interpreter sitting beside the stage was, a great shock to Faull as she admits that there had never been an interpreter present. Having understood the show, the group had just assumed an interpreter must have been there but, as they can’t quite remember all the details, they make creative associations about what must have happened. 

Elaine Faull led Monday’s workshop on Children’s Memory of Performance.

Overall, the workshop was fascinating – and it is incredible to have research and data that breaks down the effect that Theatre for Young People may have into different categories or periods of time. Of course, it also validates what we all know to be true: Theatre does indeed change people.

Elaine Faull is a 3rd Year PhD student at Exeter University Drama Department. Her PhD study is on the impact of Theatre on children working with UK company Theatre Alibi on their primary school tour. Previously, she was a Headteacher and Drama Teacher for 35 years. She has also run a Community Arts Theatre.

Hana Holloway is an experienced young American educator and theatre artist. Her passion for writing, puppetry, and devising theatre has led her to diverse opportunities in the Performing Arts. She was invited to be a Porter Fellow for the 2019 Theatre for Young Audiences USA conference and was accepted into the apprentice company for the 2017 Williamstown Theatre Festival. She is now a Programme Director for ​‘Lights, Camera, Learn!​‘, a nonprofit that educates and empowers children through the art of filmmaking which has recently brought her to Tunisia, Jordan, Palestine, and Dubai. Hana sees theatre as a transformative art form that has the power to impact change in the world.