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The value of Drama: Workshops for teachers and students helped Grade 3 on Dover Campus prepare for their annual arts festival

Ally Garland, Grade 3 Teacher, Dover Campus
Brian Ó Maoileoin, Primary School Principal, Dover Campus
16 June 2015

Workshops for teachers and students helped Grade 3 on UWCSEA's Dover Campus prepare for their annual arts festival.

"Art teaches us nothing, except the significance of life.” - Henry Miller

Why do we bother with performance when it takes time away from classroom work? At UWCSEA, we place a very high value on drama and performance because it represents so much more than act—dance—finish with jazz hands—await the applause. It provides our students an experience that requires them to develop self management, commitment, relationship-building, time management, teamwork and collaboration. And it requires them to engage with plot, character and feelings. Many subjects ask students to communicate, to be creative or to share a perspective; drama demands it. Drama education gives students an opportunity to get into a role and ensures they are also asked to step back out of it to reflect on the experience. And while drama education is a different thing to performance, performance is an immensely important component of it.

Children innately understand conflict, friendship, injustice and betrayal. They understand love and failure and ambition. They understand joy and despair and grief. But their grasp of these concepts, when they are young, is undeveloped and confusing. Role play, acting and performance in our Arts Festival productions provide children a vehicle to explore these areas of humanity, to engage with them meaningfully and to reflect upon them in a way that is comfortable and safe for them.

And quite apart from any of these lofty and noble aims, performance is a whole lot of fun. Whenever I talk to High School students about their memories of Primary School, they mention two almost exclusively: their Arts Festival productions and their Outdoor Education residential trips. They never mention a particularly memorable worksheet. Never.

At UWCSEA, we like to push our students in the back and into the spotlight. For some, of course, the push is unnecessary: they revel in it. For others, we cannot push too hard or too soon, but we will still gently push. 

Brian ÓMaoileoin
Primary School Principal
Dover Campus

Crafting our performance in Grade 3 

Friends, actors and audiences, lend me your ears! Let me tell you more about the fabulous opportunities the Primary School teachers and students have had this year for Drama workshops to support our Arts Festivals.

One of the many thrills and highlights of a year in the Primary School is the grade-level Arts Festival. Many of these annual performances have been written into Units of Study, and all the students are keen to find out their parts and get into character. The activities around the Arts Festival focus on looking at how performers capture the audience’s attention, how to convey feeling and development of skills to make their performance come alive.

However, as fundamental building blocks to a successful performance, these drama skills need to be acquired by Primary School teachers in order to be able to successfully integrate them into the learning experience for the students. In the past, the challenge in further developing these skills in our students was that many classroom teachers in the Primary School had minimal formal training in drama techniques. And so to this end an outside provider, Centre Stage, was engaged to build a programme that would both lift the level of expertise within the teaching staff and develop confidence and enthusiasm in imparting these drama skills to their students.

Support from the UWCSEA Foundation’s Annual Fund enabled a series of professional development workshops, designed to give teachers hands-on experience of different games, activities and scenarios that they could then bring to their own classrooms. For most of us, the afternoon of workshops redefined what ‘drama’ entailed, helping us eliminate some of our past practices: who knew there was no need to cast some students as rocks and trees because you have run out of speaking parts? A range of ideas were demonstrated to increase the actor’s tool kit, to foster character, positive body movement and an expressive voice.

A second workshop provided for the development of skills supporting the technical side of staging a performance. Staff were given a range of practical tips on using different heights, lighting and costumes, and how to avoid masking. This resulted in the entire faculty gaining a shared vocabulary and understanding of terminology for various aspects of drama.

Not only did these workshops give staff an opportunity to participate in all of these activities, they allowed us to plan how to incorporate these skills and techniques into our own Arts Festival productions.

With help from the Centre Stage staff, a workshop model provided students opportunities to engage in learning these skills before Arts Festival rehearsals began. It was an extremely positive way to kick start this unit and upskill everyone: students and staff alike. Various workshop sessions immersed the students in the use of voice projection and clarity, movement around the stage, and building their characters. Every session was practical and engaging, designed to teach a specific skill. These sessions were led by the Centre Stage, with UWCSEA staff gaining greater expertise by shadowing such skilled drama practitioners. The final workshop session included UWCSEA’s own technical staff, who demonstrated how the lighting and sound elements for a performance are controlled in the RBT theatre. The students were fascinated to see ‘behind the scenes’ and the experience also made them aware of different areas on the stage they needed to consider while performing.

Having reflected on both the staff professional afternoon and the student workshops, the staff felt that they could see a direct connection between the skills being taught and these filtering in a very positive way into the children’s performance. The teachers also felt that they were able to focus their attention on certain areas of the Arts Festival production with greater confidence and knowledge. The level of the children’s performance was lifted as was their technical understanding.

The whole process was an extremely positive experience. In addition to the growth in drama skills, staff have confirmed that they are far more likely to try different drama activities in our classrooms not only during Arts Festival production time, but also in other areas of the curriculum. Teachers also appreciate the opportunity it has given us to expand and refresh our own knowledge and expertise in this area.

And now, at the time of writing at least, it is on with the show!

Thanks to the generous contributions of our community, the UWCSEA Foundation was able to fund this initiative. The UWCSEA Annual Fund is managed by UWCSEA Foundation. Gifts  of any amount enhance the exceptional experience and high standards of UWCSEA.