A Response to the continuing attack on Drama in schools

I was going to write a new post on my response to the recent, continuing and sustained attack on Drama and arts within schools. Then it occured to me to actually ask some ex students of mine. People I had met as young people about to embark on adulthood. I asked them one simple question “What has drama done for you?” and this is their reponse.

Helen

To find out that drama is to be cut from the curriculum and to be considered a soft option is quite frankly upsetting. School is really important for providing an education to young people, enabling them to access all parts of the curriculum from sciences, math, English, the humanities and the arts. For me it’s also about creating good, wholesome, well-balanced individuals who have the right mind set and skills to go out into the world and make a positive difference.
To a certain degree we can do this through other subjects, some more than others, however for me drama is a place where students are free to explore, imagine, express and question in a safe environment looking at various topics and situations.

I was a painfully shy student at primary school and don’t remember having much access to drama here but we did have the yearly nativity. I do remember I had a few lines as an angel and my parents being so proud after practicing it with me each night so as not to stumble over them. Without knowing it, in this tiny sometimes overlooked production I was learning vital skills for my adult life. Confidence of speaking in front of others, speech and language development i.e. projection and diction and working with my other classmates taking visual and auditory cues.

Drama gave me the chance to express and find a voice within myself. It gave me the confidence to stand it front of people and portray a character I had taken time to understand. Drama I think is typically learning about life, giving students the opportunity to explore a topic or situation and looking at the characters in it. Other subjects to me just didn’t make sense. For example I wasn’t engaged in math’s as you either understood the formula or you didn’t. There was no real exploration there and I felt the lessons weren’t tailored to get me interested!

In Drama I had space to breathe and think and it excited me performing in front of others. My other lessons didn’t give me that freedom as drama did. They felt regimented and rigid; they didn’t interest me unless it was a practical session, which for the majority they were not. I felt supported in drama by my teachers and parents with positive reinforcement. Something I maybe wasn’t getting from other subjects I didn’t feel as much connection to.

Also watching as opposed to ‘doing’ drama is a great way to understand the world around us. When education is taught through something engaging, real and raw (as theatre can sometimes be) then it makes more of an impact and promotes motivation.

Drama helped me learn about the world around me, it helped me with my confidence in speaking with others socially and in professional situations. It helped me when presenting myself to others to convey a certain attitude or manner and helped me communicate more effectively. I think it has made me a more creative thinker, which helps me problem, solve in all aspects of my life. I am now committed to inspire my community through theatre for positive changes.

Laura
Drama completely changed my life. I was relatively quiet in school and bullied almost every day for being a “boffin”, or not fitting in with everyone else.
Drama lessons in school were the one place where I would never get bullied; the few hours a week where I was safe and could “be someone else”, and because of this, it was the one (non-traditionally academic) subject in school that I wanted to continue further.
In my teenage years, studying drama, working in groups and being encouraged to perform did wonders for my confidence. It enabled me to communicate and relate to people in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, and my drama teachers in particular, were some of the most creative, engaging and supportive role models I’ve ever been lucky enough to have in my life.
I went on to study Media and Performance at degree level, which has only help to further bolster my confidence and develop transferable social and communication skills that have helped me in job interviews and in the workplace; I work face to face with members of the public for Museums Sheffield, where the ability to effectively interact with people from all backgrounds is essential.

As opposed to the once quiet, shy little girl I once was, I am now well known for being quiet outgoing, friendly, approachable and talkative in the workplace.
I really wouldn’t be the person I am today if I’d never been given the chance to study drama and the performing arts and I firmly believe drama lessons are a necessary positive factor in the education and personal development of children and young people.

Nicole
At GCSE level I chose to do Drama as it was a subject that I was naturally good at and really enjoyed. Truthfully, I saw it as an ‘easy’ option to ease the pressure from the rest of my STEM subjects I had also chosen; of which I found I possessed a lesser natural ability to excel in these.

As I progressed to A levels, again, I chose Performing Arts along with Math’s, Physics and Geography with the same view to keep a subject that I actually enjoyed – for what is life if you do not enjoy it? The reason for my other choices was that my chosen career path, at the time, was directed to the armed forces. Unfortunately, I started to fall behind in Math’s and Physics as the teachers failed to capture my imagination and maintain an interest in the subjects. The support to maintain the effort I needed to put into these subjects was either nonexistent or too old fashioned to help me. I dropped both subjects and picked up English Literature in which I excelled. I ended up leaving college with brilliant results in all the subjects that I completed. Not only this, but the teachers from Geography, English Literature and most of all Performing Arts, inspired me well and truly to become the successful person I am today. I would like to add that I am still in touch, on a regular basis, with both my Performing Arts and Geography tutors.

I can wholeheartedly say that, the only reason i embarked on my adventure to University was because of my Performing Arts tutor. No one in my family had ever been to university and it was an unknown and daunting notion. Those three years of my life studying Contemporary Theatre and Performance shaped my future. The degree enabled me to build upon my confidence, taught me organising skills at an international level, negotiation skills, how to actively think outside the box and the ability to push myself in many aspects. Without this degree I would 100% not be in the job I am today. I am a 24 year old woman who earns 28k inclusive of company car; soon to rise with my recent promotion. I am doing a job where the average age is around 35 and I owe it all to drama. I know many people my age who did mathematical, engineering and scientific degrees that cannot even get a job! Not surprisingly when they have the personality of a pea. I feel i am at an age now where i can reflect on my past choices, this said, i know that i would not have been well suited for a career in the armed forces and would hate to think that is where my path had been manipulated towards because girls should be ‘pushed into science and math’s courses’

It cannot be underestimated how a young mind can be inspired by the subject of drama and how it can influence many lives. I know that I was on a dangerous path at school after getting in with the wrong crowd and the extracurricular I attended with Drama kept me away from that trouble and gave me an outlet for my creative mind. Had i been channeled into the STEM subjects and forced to maintain them at A-level and further them at university I would not be in the position i am now as i would not have been able to achieve the levels required.

I cannot fathom why anyone would consider campaigning to remove the subject and describing it as ‘soft’. The world’s history is saturated with art, drama, music. It is what makes us human, the very notion that separates us from machines. It is understandable that companies require engineering candidates or that there is a demand for more science teachers. But using Drama as a scapegoat is unacceptable and wrong. The risk of our children losing the ability to communicate on a personal and face to face level is high as it is with the rate that technology is developing; can we really afford to take away the one thing that gives our children the platform for expression?

William
Throughout my time in education I have always had a passion for creative subjects. In 1996 my primary school organised a school trip to see ‘Oliver!’ in Manchester. It was my first theatre trip and still remains one of my most vivid childhood memories. I was captivated by theatre then and have been ever since; which is surprising, considering I was an extremely ‘shy little boy’.

Where PE enabled peers to excel and find their release, drama offered me a three-hour window each week to learn how to express myself, without judgment. Drama could essentially be likened to the study of human psychology: learning about yourself and others – vital things to do, particularly whilst in a safe environment like school. It also gave me a whole array of skills that I now use daily such as research and presentation skills. The most vital being good communication skills. Rehearsing for school productions taught me the importance of time management, teamwork and opened up my creative mind, helping me across all number of other subjects.

As an actor the notion that drama is considered to be a soft option leaves me frustrated. A-Level I studied Biology, Chemistry, Drama and Physics. I obtained four A grades. It is worthy to note that both at GCSE and A-Level, I always found Drama by far the most challenging. Learning about all the different practitioners, genres and techniques of acting was, for me, very testing and required lots of revision.

So often my peers science peers would have no knowledge of current affairs and the current global issues that can be covered through theatre. Productions require masses of research into the subject matter of the play. Whilst at school no other subject ever required me to go off and research how our Government is run, how cancer can place strain on a family or how to organise an event.

One might argue that drama can be studied outside of school. I agree, it can. I attended many drama clubs. However it was only because of studying it at school that I felt obliged to travel and pay the expensive membership fees for out of curricular drama clubs, which I might add, are few and far between. Studying it at school also allowed me to learn the theories behind drama and take part in theatre trips which just aren’t possible at most drama clubs.

I have no shadow of a doubt, that had I not studied drama, I would not be the well-rounded, informed individual I am today. No surprise then that, that ‘shy little boy’ is now a confident working actor.

Kirsty
Keeping the art in schools and education is important, as every child has different personalities, different abilities and interests. What performing arts did for me; Throughout my life I’ve found reading and writing hard with dyslexia. As a low self-esteem teen I believed I could do nothing and be not be good at anything, either have close friends, until arts became alight! Drama wasn’t in the school I was in so that option wasn’t there, but if it had of been I probably would of found school easier. I turned to arts of drama, I absolutely loved every single day! To start with I have a good understanding of the history that I think we all should be aware of anyway, so interesting stages of history. I learnt a lot about myself. Yes I’m not in the theatrical job line now, but because of drama, it made me who I am today, the confidence in me to believe and try whatever it is I wanted to do. I would have never of tried to do the courses that I’ve done and have the courage to put myself forward for any challenges. I try my best and achieve. I would never have done this if arts wasn’t a part of my past! I love and respect all types of arts, theatre will always be in me! I’ve visited different places and experience things within my interests that I would have shied away and never seen. I thank everyone I ever met and had involvement in the course. Been able to act and shout out expressions on the stage, perform out in the open and entertain was an amazing development step of life. I now have two beautiful children that I adore and still believe that my confidence change was a part of this. My education, my job, my courage, my belief in myself and how I stand up tall with my head up high and happy.

Lydia
There’s no denying that creative activities are loads of fun. They can be colourful, loud and sometimes brilliantly glittery, but they can also be challenging, focused and bloody hard work.

As someone who works in the arts sector, both with an organisation and on a freelance basis, it’s really tough to find the words to answer questions like ‘why are subjects like drama and art important at school?’ They’re not important: They’re essential. Here are some of the reasons that came to mind.

1. Confidence
This must be the most common answer. Spitting out that first line in front of the whole group/class/school just gets that tiny bit easier each time. Your voice becomes louder, clearer and that bit more self-assured, which very quickly becomes the case in other classes and on other platforms as a result. In my case, it was a confidence I wanted to support others to find.

2. A Better Understanding of the World
What informs scripts, performances and artworks? The world: As it is and as it has been. People: The things they say, do, feel, think about, argue about, care about and fight for. The English language: its complexities, oddities, beauty and faults. The best literature, the most interesting theories, the most frustrating politics. Don’t tell me the arts are ‘soft’. That’s some serious hard thinking.

3. Empathy
What goes hand in hand with a better understanding of the world? A better understanding of the person next to you, the person living next door and the person being shown on the news. If a better understanding makes for more understanding people, that’s fantastic. If a handful of those people turn their empathy into actions that make their school, town or world a better place, even better.

4. Imagining other possibilities
The place that you live in can become overly familiar, predictable and, as a result, dull. You can come to expect and accept the way things are; even the things you would rather have another way. The arts provide freedom to pick apart, question and play. They give time and space to imagine and explore all there is and all there could be; however achievable or bonkers. Whether the little boy gets to find out what it might be to fly to the moon or the teenage girl has opportunity to explore a character who’s having a really hard time too, surely both experiences are equally valuable?

I was someone who worked very hard at achieve A’s and A*s in all subjects at GCSE level. I was strongly encouraged by my college to pursue academic subjects and chase the possibility of Oxford or Cambridge. Instead I chose fine art, performing arts, music technology and philosophy. I now work as a project coordinator for an arts organisation that work with and support artists internationally. As a freelance artist, I work with communities to explore the things that matter to them and find ways to initiate change where they can see something being better or different. Would I have the confidence, empathy, understanding or imagination to do any of that without studying drama? No.

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