There’s no escaping the performing arts

We should be integrating performing arts right across school life, says Darryl Nel from ACS Cobham International School

To quote President Obama:”The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create.” Performing arts present a perfect arena for students to explore their imaginations and develop their creativity, providing excellent preparation for life beyond school and the world of work. In my view, it’s vital that music and drama is placed right at the very heart of school life.

At ACS Cobham, for example, offers a two-tiered approach to the integration of performing arts across the school. All years from lower to middle school take mandatory performing arts classes, while high school students can elect to study courses in music and drama.

Students can also participate in a performing arts co-curricular programme. With a range of activities across all years and for all levels, such as the lunchtime marimbas club or the grade four and five orchestra, the performing arts are central to the school day.

This year the school’s international baccalaureate (IB) theatre course students, aged 16 to 18, will work together to create three pieces of work. To help them develop their skills they participated in the International Schools Theatre Association’s (ISTA) three-day theatre arts programme symposium at Stratford-upon-Avon. During their time at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the students took part in a range of masterclasses and seminars, hosted by IB examiners and designed to hone essential arts skills such as spatial awareness and voice projection.

The Symposium, however, was not just an opportunity to work on technique, it also allowed students to hone other key skills vital to the world of work. During rehearsals students worked alongside other pupils from all over the world, exploring the universal themes of education, love and morality in Shakespeare’s ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’. Through interpretation and collaboration, students were required to accept, challenge and adapt to different viewpoints – a quality highly sought after by employers.

It’s important for students to enjoy music and drama alongside their peers and other year groups and so ACS Cobham’s bi-annual spring concerts and whole-school productions aim to bring together the entire school community. For last year’s ‘Joseph’, more than 60 students, from grades two to 12, performed together for classmates, family and friends. This approach also allows younger students to learn new skills and, hopefully, absorb the enthusiasm shown by their older peers. In return, high school students are required to apply patience and understanding whilst honing invaluable mentoring skills.

Such skills are transferable across the curriculum and also in future employment. For example, students playing central characters or acting as a lead lighting technician have to work at confidence, direction and be prepared to speak out and stand their ground – leadership skills which are as useful in the boardroom as they are on stage. Similarly, effective teamwork is also essential, to ensure rehearsals run smoothly and produce a polished final performance.

Drama and music is used to provide inspiration for students across the many different facets that make up a production. This semester saw the official opening of ACS Cobham’s EJ Poularas Performing Arts Centre (PAC), a new state-of-the-art facility which allows students to explore many different aspects of the performing arts across the curriculum. A walk-on wire tension grid, for example, makes stage lighting more accessible, so giving greater freedom to experiment with different lighting styles and techniques, while the flytower allows students to move large pieces of scenery quickly without limitation. By having access to the professional-standard equipment and facilities, students can enhance their talents and challenge themselves artistically.

Students who take part in music and drama in classes and co-curricular activities are more likely to cultivate an active imagination and a creative mindset – essential qualities needed by today’s globally mobile workforce. 

Darryl Nel is head of performing arts at ACS Cobham International School W:

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