This year, Sydney Theatre Company’s School Drama™ program celebrates over 10 years of landmark professional learning and development, using tried-and-tested drama techniques, along with children’s literature, to enhance teaching, learning, literacy and student confidence – all without leaving the classroom.
Developed over a four-year pilot program with The University of Sydney and leading academic Professor Emerita Robyn Ewing AM, since 2009 School Drama has reached over 35,000 students and teachers across Australia and New Zealand.
By its very nature, School Drama is hands-on. It takes place in school classrooms, using active, physical drama strategies. However, as schools have had to adapt their teaching practices during this time of social isolation, so has STC’s Education program.
Enter School Drama Digital, a series of online professional learning workshops for teachers, and an online version of the 7 week Artist-in-Residence program. This time, however, the teacher, STC Teaching Artist and students are all collaborating online.
To help make School Drama Digital a reality, award-winning community artist and STC Teaching Artist Alyson Evans has come on board. Over the past few years, Alyson has worked with the Bourke Walgett School of Distance Education as a Community Producer for Outback Theatre for Young People. Her work with distance education primary school teachers, parents and students made her the obvious choice to take School Drama from school to screen.
“Even though it is such a practical program, it's incredible how much of it can be done online,” Alyson says. “Through the advances of online conferencing technology, we can still all see each other as a class, we can use a whiteboard and we can go into virtual break out rooms for group work.”
These developments mean that all the most engaging aspects of School Drama – the creative collaboration, the character embodiment, the physicality – can stay largely the same. But while the first School Drama Digital workshops for teachers have been a success, the roll out into student classrooms will not be without both old and new challenges.
“A space with minimal distractions and one that encourages focus is the perfect environment for School Drama. That's why we traditionally run the program in the classroom rather than a school hall… With School Drama Digital, students will be in their own homes, with immediate distractions surrounding them that we cannot control.”
For Alyson, and the other Teaching Artists, these potential distractions mean harnessing new tools to find the correct energy and flow for the class.
“We balance the feel and energy of the class in our hands, and use that to respond with our strategies and be flexible to adapting our plans, to best suit where the class are at that day. To do that through a computer screen takes a lot of extra energy, with us constantly monitoring the body language of all the students to see their level of engagement.”
Learning from home also presents some unique, unexpected creative opportunities.
“In the classroom we often use a prop or costume piece… At home, students can create their own costumes using found items from around the house, [which is] very effective and very fun.”
For both students and teachers, School Drama Digital offers a refreshing departure from desk-bound learning, at a time where isolation mandates more time spent indoors and, inevitably, seated. Focusing on embodied learning and creative thinking, the program facilitates an online collaboration with teachers, students and the Teaching Artist. With this new iteration, STC’s School Drama program continues its mission to aid teacher professional development and improve literacy in (and very much out) of the classroom.