There is a lot of established research concerning the positive influences from drama, theatre, and the performing arts, particularly on the younger generation. Drama is an important tool for preparing students to live and work in a world that is increasingly team-orientated, whilst also encouraging them to develop tolerance and empathy.
She has enjoyed a wide and varied career in the performing arts, from coaching students toward finals and winning national competitions such as XFactor through to being the lead singer in the band ‘Twenty Six Times’, which has an extended play record out now on Spotify and iTunes, with the album to come at the end of this year! Also a drama teacher at Dwight School Dubai, Katrina discusses the benefits of drama and improvisation.
Education UAE: Why study drama?
Katrina Clark: When most people think of drama, they think of people acting on stage. However, drama is a place where we learn communication, problem solving, confidence, and creative skills. Within the classroom, students learn how we process non-verbal and verbal communication through fun activities, improvisation, and by being an audience.
Through creating and devising scenes for the stage or the screen, we are encountered with many problems, providing a vast array of learning opportunities to problem solve, work as a team, develop leadership skills, and work collaboratively/
EDUAE: What is improvisation in theatre?
KC: Improvisation is something we do every day. We never decide exactly what we will say before we say it, and in life things are constantly sprung upon us, and we need to have an answer. In theatre, we hone this very useful skill through many different kinds of improvisations. These can be on the spot, where a small group is given a topic or a scenario where they have to act it out. Or this can also be a prepared improvisation where there is time given from 60 seconds through to around 10 minutes to prepare the story or scene.
And honing these skills is a masterful art used in many fields of work. We constantly need to think on the spot and make quick decisions in everyday life. Any successful entrepreneur, politician, sales person, manager, and parent will need these skills.
EDUAE: What is your response to parents who don’t agree with performing arts as a core subject or career?
KC: We all know that there is a hierarchy of subjects and performing arts is always somewhere at the bottom of that list. But the way I see it is that performing arts are a foundation to many aspects of learning.
We live in a world that is changing faster than in any of the previous decades. We have reached a point, with environmental catastrophe and the rate at which technology is advancing, where we honestly don’t know what jobs will be available in 20 years time. So the students we are teaching now need to be prepared for whatever is around the corner. And we need some amazing creative minds alongside the technological advancements to get us out of the massive hole (environmentally) that humanity has dug itself into. Performing arts teaches students to think laterally, problem solve, and explore new ideas and possibilities.
Many businesses rely on workshopping their creative minds together to come up with new ideas and products. In the drama classes I teach, we do a lot of this work through the projects we do.
For example, students, in groups, have to come up with a list of at least 40 completely new and not existing before products or services. Then they will pick one and turn it into a radio advertisement, exploring not only how persuasion and selling through advertising works, and how to hone vocal skills, but also to create something completely new.
One of the other big lessons I teach within my drama classes, and this is day one for each year level, is to make mistakes! If we are not prepared to get things wrong and make mistakes, we will never reach beyond our perceived limitations. Therefore, in drama, through many improvisation and drama activities, I encourage students to explore and extend themselves. And to do this we talk about mistakes. I say to my students, before anything else: “Welcome to drama class, I want you to get things wrong and make plenty of mistakes.” This is often met with some gasps and chatter, as the students are not used to hearing such a statement.
As adults, we are often so frightened of getting things wrong, that we never put ourselves out there. Or as Brene Brown says in her book, ‘Daring Greatly’: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” She goes on to describe that if life is not lived “inside the arena” where you are open to failure and being ‘knocked down’, then you will be a spectator to your own life.
Performing arts not only helps us to gain confidence and communication skills, but it also allows us to take risks in a safe environment, to explore other opinions and ideas, journeys and cultures through exploring and acting out different characters and acting through different situations. Drama provides a place to learn empathy, tolerance, and understanding, while enabling us to explore our own ideas, thoughts and life stories.
EDUAE: Tell us about your current production?
KC: As part of an IB curriculum school, Dwight School Dubai really encourages both our students and our teachers to do things differently where we can, to push boundaries, collaborate, and think globally. This allowed for the perfect vehicle to create something truly new and unique this year. After a conversation that popped up in an advisory class, we discussed the Iceland commercial that was banned, which highlighted the concerns for the orang-utans through the forest devastation caused by the palm oil industry. Having been very aware of this, and having had a palm oil free household for many years, I was concerned that this was not common knowledge. So this year, I wrote the script and many of the songs for our school production, ‘Palm Paradise’, which shares a strong and powerful message about the devastating impacts of palm oil.
To be entirely honest, I have never dealt with such a serious issue in any of the previous musicals I have written, so this was new territory, and I was scared that this would not go off as expected. In fact, the end product exceeded all my expectations and was a massive hit. Students both on and off stage grew in confidence and ability, from stage hands, props coordinators, and stage managers to the actors and singers. Many people not only loved the show, but it proved as a very powerful vehicle for raising awareness of this worldwide issue. Many audience members praised the show for its visual excellence, songs, edgy qualities, and uniqueness, as well as saying that it had persuaded them to look at all the labels in future and keep palm oil from their homes. This is absolute music to my ears, and proof of the power of the performing arts.
A professor at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) and the co-founder of multiple arts production and theatre community organisations in New York City, Tomi Tsunoda discusses how more than 90% of communication is nonverbal and how they teach students to embed that in their acts.
Education UAE: What makes the performing arts programme offered at NYUAD unique?
Tomi Tsunoda: The NYUAD Theatre Programme is an academic and artistic laboratory dedicated to theatre research, scholarship, and practice. We provide a rigorous approach to artist training, a solid scholarly foundation in theatre history, theory and criticism, and exposure to a variety of transnational cultural practices through the study of theatre both here and abroad.
EDUAE: How does your programme benefit students?
TT: Our programme provides students with a flexible and responsive approach to learning, allowing them to carve their own pathways to knowledge through a spectrum of elective courses. In addition to gaining specific skill sets in performance creation and critical thinking, the students develop skills in independent problem-solving in relation to their own personalities and experiences. This way, they are able to take their education into a broad range of different professional and cultural experiences after graduation.
EDUAE: What constitutes the performing arts?
TT: Our definition of performance is very broad. Part of what we hope the students will do is innovate the medium beyond definitions that already exist. These questions – what is theatre? what is performance? – are questions we train the students to ask instead of questions we try to answer for them. However, all our explorations of performance involve contending with time and the act of witnessing, bringing the artists and the audience into community with each other to try to make meaning out of the human experience.
EDUAE: It is said that 93% of communication is nonverbal. What are the tools and skills learned from theatre and the performing arts that give students an advantage in being master communicators?
TT: Although many plays are constructed around verbal dialogue, spoken language is only one of many kinds of communication in a piece of theatre. Human behaviour, action, and choice-making are also crucial elements of storytelling. Theatre also uses an aesthetic vocabulary through design elements such as lighting, costumes, sound and music composition, scenic elements, etc. The sound of an actor’s breathing or the sweat on their skin communicates as much information to the audience as words, sometimes more.
EDUAE: What core elements are covered in lessons?
TT: Our programme offers a range of different classes, and each course covers different elements, depending on the topic of the class. However, in all classes, the students learn to identify their own unique perspectives, to be critical readers of text, performance, and lived experience, and to contend with what it means to be in conversation with an audience.
EDUAE: Other than communication, how are the skills beneficial to a person’s development?
TT: Theatre is a tremendous medium for empathy and to explore what it means to be an individual within society. It is an inherently collaborative medium, both in its creation and in the moment it meets an audience. Studying theatre also trains an ability to read cultural works with a critical eye. The world is filled with performance, in advertising, politics, diplomacy, family life, law, urban planning and development, architecture, corporate offices, religious practices. Becoming a stronger theatre artist or scholar creates the skills to be a more literate member of the cultural audience.
EDUAE: What careers can be pursued with a degree in theatre?
TT: Our graduates pursue careers in performance, but also in politics, academia, NGOs, education, and more. By developing skills in project development, collaboration, budget management, reflective writing, proposal writing, public speaking, and storytelling, a degree in theatre can prepare students for careers in nearly every sector of society.
Jonathan Goodwin trained as an actor at Central School of Speech and Drama, working professionally for a number of years on stage and in film before moving into directing. Today, director of ArtsEd International, Jonathan discusses the ‘big shots’ that ArtsEd has trained and what productions they are now in.
Education UAE: Tell us about the history of ArtsEd – how it began, how it has progressed?
Jonathan Goodwin: ArtsEd is the UK’s leading performing arts school and is home to our day school and sixth form, as well as excellent BA and MA training in musical theatre and acting.
Over the past 100 years, ArtsEd has built an extraordinary reputation for providing outstanding academic education alongside conservatoire training, whilst nurturing gifted and diverse students from the ages of four to 60+. Students literally immerse themselves in high-calibre vocational and academic study, whilst developing their talent and personal passion for the performing arts.
2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of ArtsEd, founded by Grace Cone and her sisters, Lillie and Valerie, and originally called the Cone School of Dancing. In 1939, the sisters formed a partnership with Olive Ripman to create the Cone-Ripman School, which became the Arts Educational Schools in 1947.
Grace Cone and Olive Ripman were groundbreaking educational pioneers who believed passionately in the value of combining a general academic education with a specialised training in dance, drama, music, and art. This philosophy has been at the heart of ArtsEd’s development over the years, and has given rise to pre-alumni that have significantly influenced the creative industries in the UK and beyond.
Dame Alicia Markova and Sir Anton Dolin drew almost exclusively on ArtsEd students to help them create their revolutionary company London Festival Ballet – which eventually became the English National Ballet. Ballerina, Dame Beryl Grey then became director of the schools in the 1960s and ArtsEd continued to innovate, introducing both professional acting and musical theatre courses before many of its competitors. In 2007, Andrew Lloyd Webber became president, following on from Dame Alicia, reflecting the outstanding reputation of our performing arts training.
For nearly 100 years our alumni have significantly influenced the creative industries on a global scale. They include leading choreographers, directors, and producers, alongside performers such as Dame Angela Lansbury, Dame Julie Andrews, and Dame Darcy Bussell. Emerging talent includes current day school student Zoe Brough, who was nominated for an Olivier Award for her performance in ‘The Nether’, and Thomas Dennis, who left the sixth form for the lead role in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ and who is currently starring as Albert Nethercott in the UK tour of the National Theatre’s ‘War Horse’. Jac Yarrow, a third-year undergraduate is about to star as ‘Joseph’ in the new West End production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical at the London Palladium.
From Rohan Tickell, with an acting career spanning across Australia, Asia, and Europe, and principle credits in the UK’s West End, including Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Mamma Mia through to Dane Preece, who has worked as a tutor of musical theatre in Switzerland, Italy, and China, alongside roles as a musical director in leading shows in the West End, the National Theatre, and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In Dance, Jill-Louise Hyde brings extensive performance expertise from West End and touring productions, including Fosse, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Calamity Jane, and West Side Story.
This combination of talented individual minds meeting young talent creates a truly dynamic environment for teaching and learning. Dedicated staff build warm and constructive learning relationships with pupils, creating a strong ethos of nurture and individualism that enables each student to flourish and make a success of adult life.
EDUAE: How did you decide on expanding to the UAE, and why?
JG: ArtsEd’s principal, Chris Hocking, was approached by Dr Andrew Lee in Dubai, and together they wanted to bring their combined expertise from education and the performing arts here in the UK and internationally to Dubai.
Chris Hocking visited UAE in April 2018 and visited many of Dubai’s world-class schools – it was clear then that there was a great appetite to develop their provision in Musical Theatre and Drama together. Chris has been principal for just over a year and his vision was to expand ArtsEd internationally. This was a perfect opportunity. Andrew and I then met with the schools and have stated to build strong partnerships for their teachers and students.
In the UAE, students will work with our teachers, students, and alumni to develop confidence, teamwork, creativity, and many other interpersonal skills required to be successful in the modern world.
EDUAE: What are the programmes offered?
JG: What is truly unique about this initiative is that we have been working very closely with the school’s leadership teams and their amazing staff to create bespoke range of programmes that will impact both students and staff.
Programmes include, but are not limited to, audition boot camps; assistance in staging a school production; working with young males on celebrating National Day; West End graduates teaching dance routines; Master classes in drama, dance, and music; working with teachers in developing creativity across the curriculum; and residential weeks at ArtsEd for staff development.
EDUAE: What is ArtEd’s approach to teaching performing arts?
JG: Our approach to teaching is very simple – it’s about the individual’s potential and how we can nurture this. Every young person is unique and we celebrate that and enhance their potential by exposing them to outstanding teaching.
EDUAE: What is the importance of studying performing arts?
JG: We want to help equip all our young people for the world that they are going to exist in. A recent article by the Creative Industries Federation stated “young people are less confident and more risk averse today. There is a fear of failure. This is not what the world needs if it is to flourish.”
Einstein said: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever come up with anything original.” A creative performing arts education will give the students the skills and the confidence to take risks and encourage them to make choices without the fear of failing. We want to build personal growth because then we see individuality and authenticity. We know performing arts helps shape our future leaders.
EDUAE: How can students transfer to the London branch?
JG: Our partner schools will be given individual guidance and advice on how to apply to ArtsEd. We hope that as our partnerships develop we will have more young people from Dubai join us. We have already had a student successfully audition for ArtsEd, even before we formally launch. We also have many students joining our sixth form, foundation acting and BA acting courses from all over world, and we are thrilled to welcome them to London.
EDUAE: Are there summer programmes?
JG: We will be running spring break and October half-term programmes in Dubai for all our partner schools. This gives young people across our partnership network the opportunity to work creatively together. In London, there are a range of summer courses, with details being found on our website https://artsed.co.uk/holiday-courses/booking/youth-courses-summer
EDUAE: Do you plan on working on any productions in Dubai?
JG: This is something we are doing on a programme basis in a few of our partner schools. Industry professionals and graduates will work with the cast and staff on various aspects of the shows.