Someone just asked me this question and I answered in a message because it was too long to post on a wall. This is my VERY short answer to the question but I wanted to put this up here.
That is a great question, what does theater teach about life? There is a lot depending on how involved or deep you got. I think for simplicity sake I’ll tackle the concepts of teamwork, themes, and emotions.
One basic element in stage productions is teamwork, how to make a team come together for a common goal. The crew, actors and tech people are all on sub sets of the same team and while they perform different functions they make the whole production run. Also, there is a valuable lesson to be learned about I verses we. If one actor or director is on an ego trip and makes everyone else look bad then the production tanks. The more support the group gives each other the better the overall production goes.
Then there is the content of the shows. Some shows are creative for the sake of showcasing talent and some simply have a point to make. I just did a show this fall where the lessons of the characters were “face your fears” and “know your limits.” The famous play No Exit by Sarte teaches that one must not look to others for approval but rather one’s self. I saw a great show in Chicago called My Dinner with Amy that tackled the theist verses atheist debate and how one should actually come closer to the center. Many shows have a point to make and the authors thread that message into a (hopefully) entertaining story in such a way that it is meaningful. Even if you disagree with the point of the show it challenges one to look at the author’s viewpoint and compare it with their own.
Another side of theater teaches one about emotions. My most challenging role was this fall which required me to almost cry on stage for every performance. I’m not usually that emotional of a person but it taught me to get in touch with a more emotional side of myself to be able to deliver a performance. I’ve also had to play characters that acted far differently than I do in real life. Two years ago I had to play an unfaithful, ungrateful tennis player and chase two different girls. Not in my real life character but it taught me about other paths people take. By playing those things on stage it made me look at a differing set of ethics and morals.
To me, theater is looking at humanity. The characters, themes and talent all showcase something that people have experienced in life or would like to see happen. I think one can reflect on their own life when they see something portrayed on stage. Of course this can go as shallow or deep as you want but having been involved in theater (as an actor, stage manager and production crew) for a decade and a half I have to admit that it’s changed me for the better. Many life lessons to be learned if you are willing to look.