Sunday, 21 February 2016

Drama = Life: Why Drama Matters


the thoughts of two drama teachers...

Carl: In the electric blue-white glow of the computer screen, I take a look at my hands. Since the IT and typing lessons of my teenage schooling years, they have learned many new skills; how to manipulate the letters of a keyboard to create words, how to slide a mouse across the desk to control a tiny arrow, how to swipe and pinch and scroll and tap. These skills have changed my life, and allowed me to keep up with the changing world.

In the same light, I examine them more closely and I see that they have been learning other things also. My education in Drama has taught them things that no electronic machine could; they have learned how to gently handle another person's head while my ensemble carries their body as part of a team-building task, how to catch a person who has trusted me when they are falling, how to tremble and shudder and glide when I dance, how to hold tension when I want to have presence, how to stay still by my side when I am nervous.

I turn off the screen; it becomes a black mirror in which I study my face. My fingertips massage my eye sockets. These eyes, which are temporarily fatigued from staring at the vast landscape of the Web, have in other times seen such beauty on the stage. From the raw emotion of Pina Bausch's dances to the vivid compositions of Robert Wilson, from the sarcastic commentary of Forced Entertainment to the simple companionship of Cupola Bobber, my eyes have seen performances which have impacted my thoughts and my heart.

Drama matters to me, more than any other subject I have studied, because it has had the greatest impact on the skills and knowledge that I use on a daily basis and this is not just because I am a drama teacher. When I used to work in retail and when I worked in elderly care, it was the skills I had gained through Drama that were of most value to me, like understanding the power of eye-contact and being able to keep myself composed even when I was nervous. For me it was these that were the tools which helped me be successful in employment and in life.

I remember my job interviews as a recent graduate and thinking to myself- It's just another performance. Harness your nerves, just like before a show. And I got through them and for the most part I was successful in finding work. Not due the fact that I had a drama degree, but due to the communication skills and creativity I had developed during those studies. Drama also taught me to see the world and people in different ways, to have compassion and to understand that I had the capacity to make an impact.

1970, Forest Hills Elementary School, Burlington North Carolina.
Margie Frye and her classmates performed a play using the song “The Age of Aquarius”....the moment changed my life.  I was 6 years old, watching a play at school and can still remember to this day how beautiful and impactful it was.  I was a small boy, in a very small town Southern town, and after seeing that performance I realized that the world could be beautiful and magical.  That’s why I think drama matters.  Drama matters because it allows people to dream.  It encourages thought and beauty.  It matters because it can make people think, question, feel, laugh, and cry.  Each day we become a little more enclosed in our own capsule of technology.  Theatre connects people; the cast and crew connect during the process, the audience connect with each other during the performance.  Having a shared community experience is becoming more and more important, and more and more impactful.  Ten years ago, I thought that theatre was beginning to lose its impact.  Now, I think it’s becoming more and more important.  

I truly believe the skills one develops in theatre make one a more well-rounded individual.  Theatre teaches you to be aware of the things and people around you.  I like that when my classes enter the room each day; I can quickly scan their body language, facial expressions, and energy and know how they are feeling.  I then like the fact that I feel comfortable enough, if they are having a bad day, to go over to one of them and give them a little more energy or focus.  Working in and teaching theatre taught me those skills.
The skills one develops while engaging in drama can be life changing, and to me, that’s what matters most.  Below are some core skills that employers have stated they are looking for in prospective employees.

Core Skills Most Sought After By 21st Century Employers

  •  Communications Skills (listening, verbal, written). By far, the one skill mentioned most often by employers is the ability to listen, write, and speak effectively. Successful communication is critical in business.
  • Analytical/Research Skills. Deals with your ability to assess a situation, seek multiple perspectives, gather more information if necessary, and identify key issues that need to be addressed. .
  •  Computer/Technical Literacy. Almost all jobs now require some basic understanding of computer hardware and software, especially word processing, spreadsheets, and email.
  • Flexibility/Adaptability/Managing Multiple Priorities. Deals with your ability to manage multiple assignments and tasks, set priorities, and adapt to changing conditions and work assignments.
  •  Interpersonal Abilities. The ability to relate to your co-workers, inspire others to participate, and mitigate conflict with co-workers is essential given the amount of time spent at work each day.
  • Leadership/Management Skills. While there is some debate about whether leadership is something people are born with, these skills deal with your ability to take charge and manage and interact/cooperate with your co-workers.
  • Multicultural Sensitivity/Awareness. There is possibly no bigger issue in the workplace than diversity, and job-seekers must demonstrate a sensitivity and awareness to other people and cultures.
  • Planning/Organizing. Deals with your ability to design, plan, organize, and implement projects and tasks within an allotted timeframe. Also involves goal-setting.
  •  Problem-Solving/Reasoning/Creativity. Involves the ability to find solutions to problems using your creativity, reasoning, and past experiences along with the available information and resources.
  • Teamwork. Because so many jobs involve working in one or more work-groups, you must have the ability to work with others in a professional manner while attempting to achieve a common goal.

[1] Source: Adapted from: What Do Employers Really Want? Top Skills and Values Employers Seek from Job-Seekers by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., and Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

Carl and Alan: Now we find ourselves responsible for teaching those skills to our students, that we in turn use so often. As teachers we are tasked with ensuring that they are prepared for a career in the modern world, in whichever field or fields they may choose to be in.

We are privileged that our school acknowledges the value of Drama and gives us the time, resources and support to help our students grow. As an example of our school’s belief in the power of the subject, we recently hosted a special event focused on preparing students for the rapidly changing world they are faced with. Alongside the other ‘zones’ of study that you would expect in a future-focused day of workshops (designing with robotics, learning the basics of coding, 3D printing and laser cutting), expression was also one of the key areas of focus. Our management have realised that not only do students need to be at the cutting-edge of technology, but they also need the communication skills to be able to articulate and present their ideas. They need to be able to work within a team and creatively solve problems. These are essential skills, not something that we can afford to put on the sidelines.

As a student recently put it to us, following her first ever performance, “without Drama I probably wouldn’t have realised that my voice could be as loud as other people’s”. There is no doubt that the chance to work within an ensemble, towards a performance in front of an audience, has had a big impact on that student. She has gained skills that will one day help her to get her dream job, just as those skills once did for us.

But more importantly than that, she has grown as a person and has found another way to express herself. At the end of the year, or after a performance, students often write to express their gratitude for being a part of the class or ensemble. They often say how the experience was the time when they felt the most comfortable as themselves or how they discovered that they can have an impact on the world. Although employment is of course important, it is this that makes Drama really matter.

Thanks to Alan Hayes for collaborating with me on this post and for being a fantastic mentor and colleague.


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