I started running a drama group for some local Home Educated children a couple of years ago. We started as a fairly disparate bunch but over time (and with lots of commitment and hard work) we have become a really tight-knit little collective. And, after a little performance we did for the parents at the end of our last chunk of sessions before Easter, we now feel like a fully fledged little company of players
I really enjoy spending time with these kids. They are interested and interesting. They come up with the most hilarious and unexpected ideas and often we all end up genuinely belly-laughing at some of their scenes and skits. A little boy today was laughing so hard, as if the scene he was watching was the funniest thing he had ever seen. In his whole life. After our little performance one of the parents came up to me and said ."...they all look like they are having so much fun". I hope, well, I know, that they are.
That is one of the most important things to me - that they are all having fun. They are also learning theatre skills, building their imaginations, learning how to work positively together in groups, discovering self-discipline, how to share, leadership, creative thinking and problem solving to name but a few of the MANY things drama gives to children and young people. We know all that. Anyone who works with young people and drama will know that. It is unmistakable how children develop and learn about the world around them and figure out where they fit in through drama and theatre. They just do. Listening to the kids talking today, working through their little scenes and hopping with excitement at a good idea or a funny thought or whatever, I know this sort of stuff is helping them develop their personalities. And seeing how a more reserved child can come up with a corking idea and how that same child will beam from ear to ear when the others in the group praise it, well, that is just ace.
Because that is the other important thing they are learning - confidence and self-esteem. Drama is one of the best tools for building confidence in children and young people. And not just in the way you might think - confidence is not all about being loud and outgoing. Drama can benefit children who are quieter too. It can help them with making new friends, hearing their own voice in front of others, suggesting ideas, making their opinions known, getting positive feedback from their peers. Working together on ideas, scenes, stories, characters and plays and then putting them on for the rest of the group is a fantastic way for kids to learn skills that will benefit them so much as adults...and all while having fun!
I always aim to focus on the positive with young people and drama. Positive, positive, positive. Whatever the answer, whatever the suggestion, no matter how off the wall or off topic, I will always try to go for the positive. Drama is not about right or wrong. Not for children, anyway. It is about exploring and learning in a friendly and fun environment. The writer and comedian John Finnemore did an hilarious sketch on his radio show John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme that I heard the other day where he played a drama teacher trying to teach some fairly hopeless young people about 'Macbeth'. His answer to every one of their ridiculous and, frankly, incorrect observations about the play was "oh, that's really interesting." and "hmm, interesting thought." etc etc. The same teacher character then went on to teach a Maths class or something and his response to the students equally incorrect answers was "No, that's wrong." and "No, absolutely not. Wrong answer.". It really made me laugh! That is exactly what it is like in drama. I always aim to find something interesting in a child's answer. It is the first rule of improvisation, really. Never block the scene. Say yes to everything. It is the same with drama class. Never block, always find something good to say. Older kids often cotton on to that though, as they did in the radio sketch. They know interesting is sometimes drama-code for wrong. But, hey. An interesting idea is an interesting idea! So, you know what my response was to the suggestion today that the mine-craft, lego, evil wizard's cat should jump into the pool of lasers rather than the pedestrian spy pushing him in - well, I obviously thought that it was a very interesting idea.