During my time teaching drama to children for the past 17 years, I have witnessed so many incredible stories of growth in self-esteem, confidence and expression in my students.
I have taught pre-schoolers and helped them to hone their already vivid imaginations so that they can explore further and bring to life their creative ideas, using costumes, props, and their blossoming young voices.
I have taught primary-aged children as the Shakespeare Director of John Colet School and also my own Drama and Singing School, Brightsparks Performing Arts School. I have been astounded and humbled by the many emails, letters and conversations with parents, expressing their gratitude for the growth in their child due to (what they believe) is their drama lessons.
So many of my students become leaders of their schools. I remember one year when a parent came up to me after class and asked me if I knew that of the 12 students in the class, 4 of them had been made school captains, 5 as vice captains and the other 3 were prefects or leaders within their schools. It was in the early stages of my teaching career. I was eager and passionate about teaching (I still am…). We had many schools across Sydney at the time, teaching out of the halls, children running in directly after the school bell and changing into their drama blacks and Brightsparks T-shirts, eager and ready for the class to begin. I did have an exceptional group of students whom I had invited into a more advanced class. They were a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed bunch and I had taught most of them in various classes over the past 5 years. It was incredible to hear that mother tell me of their success and I was so very pleased, although not surprised.
And yet, it is not all about the confident, clever child. It is also about the shy child, who doesn’t always get noticed, who isn’t able to put up their hand and speak out about their own experiences, feelings or beliefs. Those are the children who really make me work the hardest. I have had so many of those children come through my school and I can attest that drama gives them the voice they quietly crave. It allows them to try out different masks, different personalities, different characteristics and it gives them permission to not be the shy child for an hour or so. It acts as a platform from which they can explore and grow and then eventually, gently and slowly, build their own confidence and voices, their own understanding of who they are.
Drama develops them in such a way that they blossom into the fullness of themselves with a newfound confidence to express who they are and what they believe in. It opens up their feelings and gives them a way to express those feelings through movement and voice and play. Of course, there are so many ways to find this in children, whether it be through sport, dance, art or other such activities, but drama is the only form that mimics life. It gives children the avenue to try themselves out in a fun and playful way. It mirrors relationships, it explores families and friendships and then later, as they hit the high school years; politics and history, inner turmoil and complex ideas. This is where drama is so unique and it is why I continue to love teaching today.
If I could encourage every parent to have their child enrolled in a drama class, I would. I would say, yes! It is beyond beneficial and a sure fire way to lead your child to their most successful lives.
Zoe Emanuel is the Director of Brightsparks Performing Arts School Pty Ltd
She is also the Director of the Shakespeare Festival at John Colet School