Amazing radio interview with Simonne Oosthuizen of our Windhoek Academy
Why you should consider letting your child do drama classes!
Karlien: I'm chatting to the principal of the Helen O'Grady Drama Academy, Simonne Oosthuizen, and we get to talk about the benefits of drama when it comes to kids. Why would you recommend drama?
Simonne: I would definitely recommend drama for anybody. If you think about the majority of schools where the focus on teaching students is to read and write which is obviously of utmost importance. However there seems to be a lack of focus on how well a child is communicating and the child's ability to express themselves effectively.
And these levels of communication skills are generally carried through into adulthood. So if you think about how much time we spend communicating verbally, you know interacting with our friends family strangers even our colleagues, you'll notice that verbal communication is the basis of all relationships. If you think about how we make friends and how to keep them, relationships and partners being appointed at a job and then excelling at it, the majority of our happiness and success in life is based on our ability to communicate. So without a doubt communication skills are an absolute necessity. So what drama does, is it teaches students to speak loudly and clearly with confidence. And it also teaches students to speak with purpose. And the way I say this is it not only teaches verbal communication but as importantly it also teaches non-verbal communication, so body language and things like that. A person's body language is as important as what is actually being said. It's not just how you say something, it's the message behind it and that's often brought across with how we verbally and nonverbally communicate. In drama classes, they often have role playing and although one assumes that a script is provided or the lines are always given you'll find that most programmes will include adlibbing and encourage discussions around what the actual individual's perspective is on the scenario that's currently being played out, or the scenario that's been given, so drawing students are encouraged to make use of and develop their own vocabulary in these situations as well - teaching people to think about themselves. There's a certain analytical side to it as well.
These not only technical skills being taught like projection and pronunciation and also theatrical skills but also development in applying those skills to life situations and putting these skills into practice. It gets people talking in front of a group. It's generally in a controlled environment so people feel safe to learn and develop and grow and they can practice their analytical thinking without even realizing it. Very importantly, the role playing and class settings allow for drama students to realize so much about themselves and their own real-life situations. It allows them to act out life situations that they are experiencing at that moment in time, or have experienced or could even prepare them for future when they might experience a similar situation. You know we have so many controversial things that happen and have been around since the beginning of time: bullying, sadness, people who are introverted or may be too shy to express their happiness and joy in front of people or even people unable to recognize and acknowledge their own achievements. One of the the most valuable lessons that we can learn through drama is being empathetic. We need to have empathy to be exceptional communicators and through this, I believe that we will find success in all aspects of our lives.
Karlien: When I was still living in Cape Town I met a lady that forced her young very shy introverted daughter to do beauty pageants and she said to me she's doing it to build her confidence. And I thought to myself how are you building her confidence. You're putting her onstage and having people judge her. They don't know her. And I thought to myself surely drama would be a better option for her to build her confidence. What is your opinion about drama versus pageants?
Simonne: Ideally we could have a bit of both, it would be great. All industries have a place and purpose in their world. And as with every industry there are pros and cons. People participating in beauty pageants have to set goals and have ambitions. They have to be very fit and be disciplined in their fitness. Of course these skills are tested and there's always wonderful prizes and opportunities to travel the world so they are really some wonderful things about beauty pageants and to certain extent people are taught to communicate and express themselves when they take part in beauty pageants as well but they are sadly quite a few negatives that one hears about the pageant industry with contestants suffering with eating disorders and obsessions with their appearance. But I feel confident in saying that if it were compulsory for all contestants to have minimum of 12 months in some kind of drama programme then a a lot of these negative aspects will be dealt with in a positive manner and that contestants can actually develop self-confidence and self-esteem in a positive way. And most importantly empathy again and hopefully not succumb to the negative aspects of that industry or any other industry for that matter.
Karlien: What type of person or age group would benefit from drama?
Simonne: I don't feel there is any age restrictions or any restrictions as far as drama goes. Doesn't matter if you're three years old or 60 years old. It's all about development in communication. My dad in these last couple of years of his life said to me, ‘You never stop learning about people and human nature’.
I think drama addresses a lot of these things, so it doesn't matter what your cultures or your belief systems are, if you're an introvert or an extrovert, you're within the corporate world or its just a children's parties. We find often introverts are encouraged to be confident in front of small groups of people and they actually realise the ability to communicate and form. This is because they're learning in a controlled environment, so they feel safe to experiment with themselves and then extroverts often find a platform to express themselves and to hone the outgoing skills. And this allows them into analytical thinking and positive communication. I honestly feel drama is really all inclusive in every way.
Karlien: Can you tell me about a typical day in class?
Simonne: We typically start with some kind of natural socialising because everybody standing around waiting for the class to start so these generally use a vocabulary through student into action. When the class starts there will be some kind of roll call whereby they introduce themselves. They'll move on to an introductory activity which generally is like an icebreaker - gets everybody warmed up. Then they'll move into technical part of the class where they do speech and jaw exercises. This is the actual oral communication. These exercises include posture and breathing, where the sound comes from inside our bodies, pronunciation and projection. And then of course your sound and tongue twisters - how quickly and clearly you can say things.
There's also movement which is spatial awareness. You learn levels and directions. You learn to work with partners and just to generally be more aware of your movement and your body awarenes - how to move around on stage. Also some people don't know how close to stand to other people – personal space. All of this is taught without being pointed out necessarily in class.
There's also often a mime to music part which is like a short script without spoken words. Students are encouraged to act out a short play but with without lines. This is also being in touch with your body and the non-verbal side and also teaching them to listen and feel music.
Then there would be some kind of improvisation where they actually perform a short play. These are often about 20 minutes long and at the end of the class, the teacher should be able to sit back and watch a short production which is always very exciting.
I think one of the favourite parts about the drama classes are snippets and that's when you put the students into groups of two generally but if there is an odd number, sometimes three, and then we just give them an introductory line and then they have to continue with the scenario by using their own vocabulary and adlibbing. And this is where the analytical side of situations in life is put into practice. They'll continue with the scenario but it will be in a manner or a tone that they are experiencing or have experienced so it's nice that they are exposed to everybody's different perceptions and experiences.
They often have impromptu conversations where students are asked to sit back to back kind of like a telephone conversation and then a scenario is given and then they need to adlib from the start so they need to use their own vocabulary from the word go. They're just given the scenario but no lines.
Sometimes poems are given which helps with memory and delivery of a particular situational information.
At the end of the class there's a concluding activity which brings focus to the end. They're similar to introductory activities - can use breathing techniques or something similar to bring the energy levels of the class down.
Often when trauma programs are taught in school then after the drama class children need to go back in to academic subjects and they need to be focused. So that's your general set up of a drama class.
Karlien: If somebody would like to contact you for more information where can they get a hold of you?
Simonne: You can visit the website, www.dramaafrica.com
(Transcript from an interview with Karlien from IONO FM and Simonne Oosthuizen from Helen O’Grady Drama Academy, Windoek.)
To listen to this interview, please click on this link: https://iono.fm/e/481142?autoplay=1