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The Full Theatre Experience – Teaching Drama Skills To Secondary Students

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Handing over the production reins to students was an inspired decision, meant to expose them to the many facets of putting on a show. But more than confidence, real-world practice and a jolly good time, the Student Directed Festival SDF produced real quality work, resulting in three awards at the 2016 Boh Camerionan Arts Awards. ARTERI interviewed Ace Edventure drama teacher Reuben Cheow about his innovative approach to teaching.  

Why does Sri Emas offer drama as part of the curriculum?

Anne Tham, founder, along with all of the committee members and teachers believe strongly it plays a vital role in the development of our students’ people and thinking skills. It also has a dramatic impact on one’s self-confidence. Academics alone is not enough to help students becoming a proactive and successful individuals.

Students are pushed beyond their comfort zone

Students are pushed beyond their comfort zone

How often do students attend drama classes?

(Fellow drama teacher) Shah (Shahizuan) and I have classes once a week with each group and each class is between one and one-and-a-half hours long. We have on average 24 classes a week. Suffice to say we are incredibly busy teachers.

How are the theatre arts taught?

Each year group is taught a different aspect of drama. So the students learn anything from Improvisation, to acting, to stage management, and finally to directing.

In improvisation, Shah and I spend a lot of time getting fresh students to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. We create a safe space for them to experiment so they can do so without worries. We are very active in this class and engage in exercises with our students. We do physical and mental games which force students to react spontaneously thus in a way making them vulnerable. In this way, they learn more than improv and the basics of acting and it’s rules; they learn a lot about themselves.

Stage management class

Stage management class

In acting class, we teach students to be self-aware and push their bodies beyond their comfort zones. They play characters of all ages and realise that there is much they can experiment with their physicality. We emphasise that it isn’t about pretending to be someone, it’s about becoming someone. In other words, you leave “you” behind and take on someone else for a duration. Students take on different personalities with different body postures that are as detailed as possible right down to the fingers and toes. Our job as a performer is to tell a story as convincingly as possible. We have to be passionate about it and we also teach this to our students. Through passion and discipline, quality will come.

Tell me about the annual Student Directed Festival (SDF). It got quite a few nods at this year’s BOH Cameronian Awards, didn’t it?

Yes, the SDF received three awards – Best Production Design, Best Principle Actor and Best Direction.

Sweeping up those Cammies

Sweeping up those Cammies

Basically, Shah and I initiated SDF in 2014 to give our Sri Emas students an opportunity to fully experience theatre production, not just certain aspects of it. To prepare for SDF, our students take complete ownership of 10-minute plays; from directing to acting, from stage managing to front-of-house duties.

Who chooses the scripts for SDF?

Students are put in groups and they have to find two choices of scripts. They propose both to Shah and I so we can make the final decision. Shah and I both put emphasis on quality. The script has to be well written and character driven. Next we look at the circumstances and story. This makes it interesting as a complete play and challenges our students because they have to take so much into account. This is where the individual growth of students emerges.

Scripts are character driven

Scripts are character driven

Do students get to choose whether they’ll be actors, stage managers, or directors?

Sage manager positions are exclusively for Year 10 students. Directing for Year 11 students and acting is open to all secondary students.Position selection is decided by the teachers, but in a way by students too. Because they are given a series of exercises and tasks to complete. The degree of quality of their work will determine whether they qualify for the applied position.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.32.27 PM

We look for scripts that challenge the students

How is the performance and individual students graded?

The performances are not graded because we don’t have an official drama exam. But we tell the students that we will supply them with a good note in their referral later. Even knowing there isn’t an official exam, the students are focused on pleasing their audience and practicing their art so they take SDF seriously.

Who watches the final performance?

Audience members consist of teachers, parents, theatre practitioners and VIP’s from different backgrounds.The best plays from SDF are performed at “Performance Day” on 6 and 7 August, at DPAC, along with best works from the school’s vocal and dance students.

Don’t miss this year’s Student Directed Festival.

Coming up on ARTERI, student directors, actors and stage mangers share their experience in preparing for SDF. Watch this space.

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Amy De Kanter
Amy De Kanter

Former Chief Editor, frequent contributor and enthusiastic audience member, Amy is thrilled to have a job that lets her do three of the things she loves most.