Black Swan's Education & Community Access Manager, Alena, and Marketing & Sponsorship Manager, Nancy are currently attending the Major Performing Arts 'Arts in Education' Network Forum in Sydney. It's a two-day annual meeting for the Major Performing Arts (MPA) Education Network to discuss the latest crucial issues in arts education, including developments in the National Arts Curriculum. In association with the forum, Alena has answered a few questions in response to a new book being written about the impact of the arts.
(Photo: Alena speaking at the forum.)
Describe how you first became interested in drama/theatre/drama education.
My first experiences of drama were in primary school. They were all spur-of-the-moment lessons during class music for those who were interested. My primary school principal would take the entire school on a yearly trip to the ballet and I was in awe of His Majestys Theatre in Perth all the opulence and tutus had me dreaming big.
In high school, now that I reflect, I always found a way to end up in the obscure, small, out-of-school-hours-but-still-on-school-grounds drama classes. The ones that occurred in dark, dingy and way-at-the-other-end-of-school rooms (that closely resembled store rooms) until finally, in year 11 (aged 16) I had two enthusiastic, bubbly and innovative young graduate teachers that dared to take risks, also daring to take personal interest in their students strengths and areas of interest within the art form. They nurtured my interest in backstage, gave me responsibility in lighting, and when it came time for me to think about university choices in year 12 (aged 17), they marched me over to WAAPA (WA Academy of Performing Arts) and helped me find the course booklet and enrolment forms for the Lighting Design course.
What is the most interesting thing you have done in drama/theatre/drama education in the past year?
I had the opportunity to work with educators in the other three major performing arts companies in WA. Theatre, Ballet, Opera and Orchestra all came together for a free performing arts education festival. We all relished in the shared love of what we do and why we do it. It was fascinating for all to see the different patrons accessing our performances, ones that had never booked with us before. The home-schoolers came, the schools with little money but big hearts came and what was most inspiring to see: teachers exposing their mixed gender drama classes to all four art forms over the two days.
What do you think is the impact of your work on individuals and society more generally?
This is not something I really imagined I might see the benefits of in my immediate career. When you are focused on building future audiences, you dont imagine you will be having those students tapping you on the shoulder and saying hi straight away. I recently had a tertiary student in a focus group, who mentioned seeing Black Swan's first live broadcast, our production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. This was broadcast live into regional centres across Western Australia. The student remarked that she felt extremely privileged to have seen such high quality theatre and to have experienced such a remarkable event. It was her first experience of theatre. This student is now in her second year of a degree, majoring in Drama Education at Edith Cowan University (ECU) and a minor in Contemporary Dance at WAAPA. She recently applied to be my new intern, stating that, "I would most definitely be interested in the chance to gain some more experience and contribute even in the slightest to the company. I've been interested in Black Swan for a number of years, especially admiring and experiencing first hand their efforts to take the urban experiences that many take for granted out into regional areas."
I think the impact of our work on individuals and society is known and felt by all who work in the arts and arts education. It can be hard to capture and articulate, because often the impact is on individuals, which is hard to measure and compare. I know that the young people I engage with through my work are articulate, creative, inspired and imaginative with clear goals. You only have to read the above statement to see that. They engage with theatre, not just for the live aspect, but for the social commentary and a deeper understanding of where they fit into this world they are trying to understand. It gives them an opportunity for discussion with like minded peers.
If you could say just one sentence to convince people of the value of experiencing drama and theatre, what would you say?
To attend live theatre is to experience two journeys at once; the first is yours, the one that allows you to feel, react to and think about what you are experiencing personally, and the second is the one you share with the audience a collective gasp, sigh, laugh or stunned silence while you are taken on a journey created by the cast and crew.
We look forward to hearing about Nancy and Alena's learnings from the forum!