To find drama in a high school, you really only have step through the front gate and look around. It’s everywhere: in the playground, in the locker room, hell, you can even hear it in the staff room. It echoes through the corridors. Some people fear it, others thrive upon it, but it can’t be denied that drama is an unavoidable part of school life.
The drama I remember most, however, was not the endless weeks of scandal arising from Formal night, nor the barrage of melees that escalated on the soccer oval or even those stressful late nights trying to sort the integers from the indices. The drama I lived for came from a little theatre next to the gym, a short walk up from the basketball courts.
I make no bones about the fact that the overriding reason I starting getting involved in drama at school was to meet girls. Isn’t that why everyone starts out? Walking into my first ever drama workshop in year seven, I still remember the cloud of oestrogen smacking me across my wide-eyed face and clogging all my senses. Females of all description were elegantly spread throughout the theatre’s padded seats like tiers on some decorative birthday cake. What 13-year-old boy is going to resist that image? Once the workshops began and my hormones had a chance to calm down and collect their thoughts, I was quickly introduced to the challenging world of improvisation and theatre-sports. Being able to think on one’s feet is quite a hard skill to master and it is especially important amongst us adolescents. Really, our whole day usually revolves around lying, rumours and getting out of sticky situations. Life, for anyone, rarely goes to script so theatre-sports suggests why bother having one? Games like ‘space jump’ and ‘freeze tag’ were the main staples of the workshops as everyone was expected to jump up and try to create something out of nothing with someone they hadn’t met. It was like creative speed dating. Although the tougher impro games had me starting to sweat, through the sea of feminine giggles I was able to express a side to myself I was rarely able to present in any classroom. Who knew I could have a talent for talking shit and could even be applauded for it? As the weeks progressed, my confidence grew both on the stage and within the company of the opposite gender. Doing drama already seemed to be paying off dividends. Much to my own surprise, as soon as the first school social rolled around, I found I was already on a first name basis with many of the year seven girls even if I didn’t completely remember theirs. Girls aside, those initial workshops proved to be the catalyst I needed for my own dramatic journey at high school. Little did I know, however, what an intriguing path lay out in front of me: a whirlwind of auditions, rehearsals, performances, parties and friendships that I still regard as my most fondly remembered experiences of high school.
Few schoolkids can say they’ve had the opportunity to write, pitch, cast and direct their own short play for public performance. Even fewer can say they’ve had the opportunity to do it twice. Nonetheless, this is the rare challenge I was fortunate enough to receive in years 10 and 12 as part of the school’s very first “Snap Shots” productions. The concept behind “Snap Shots” was to produce an evening that showcased a selection of student-generated material: eclectic theatrical pieces written, directed and performed by students. These short vignettes ranged from sketch comedy to more experimental theatrical works as our usual director took the reins of producer and put five young students, including myself, into the director’s chair. Not many drama coordinators would have the gumption to take such a risk and also have the grace to pull it off and this is a testament to his talent and bravery. Putting on the beret of writer/director was quite a daunting transition for me to make as I’m usually the kind of cast member who’s regularly found standing at the back sheepishly asking ‘which bit are we rehearsing now?’ Directing is a much different spotlight to stand in compared with acting, as you have to be both the leader and visionary behind your cast. I was required to plan rehearsals, direct cast members who were older (and taller) than me and make snap decisions about aspects of my show I hadn’t really thought about. But that’s the great thing about drama. It forces you out of your comfort zone and into the unknown where often the most rewarding experiences are had. After weeks of preparation and sleepless nights, both “Snap Shots” productions had their own prolonged rewards. With the arrival of production week, seeing my actors develop and hearing my own words performed in front of an audience was a real treat. I’ll certainly remember that feeling of standing proudly in the wings long after I’ve forgotten how bad some of the writing was.
One barrier that often stands in the way of a lot of kids, particularly boys, getting involved in drama and dance at school is an unsettled feeling that this sort of activity isn’t reserved for the cool, tough overlords of the playground. Just the words ‘extra-curricular activity’ seem to leave a bad taste in some kids’ mouths. It’s bizarre that, even today, some kids still hold the fear that choosing drama or dance over sport somehow makes you less of a man. I don’t know where this rumour started exactly but there does still seem to be a noticeable lack of y-chromosomes in school drama theatres around the country. It’s time we squash this fear quick smart and started seeing more young blokes treading the boards and stepping out into the spotlight. It seems rather ironic that, often, the boys who are most afraid of donning a little make-up are the same boys who’d much rather wrestle with each other in shorts on the oval. Fortunately, insecurity wasn’t such a big problem in my school experiences as both the drama and dance programs were so enticing and varied. Drama undoubtedly requires all the same attributes as it’s boorish older cousin, sport: concentration, teamwork and discipline. Instead of crossing white lines you have to learn lines. Even dance, admittedly a skill that I completely struggle at, is another school activity that a lot of boys would snigger at the thought of taking up. Come on, fellas, next time the ballet comes to your town, go see Swan Lake instead of the Sydney Swans and tell me you wouldn’t want the guy playing Prince Siegfried in your team’s forward line. Don’t let the pink tutus fool you; these people are proper athletes with strict fitness regimes who put their body in jeopardy every time the curtain is raised. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still mad for my sport, but put most professional athletes in the ballet arena and I guarantee that most of them would be hitting the showers well before the overture had finished. Luckily, dance seems to have shown a recent rise in popularity through film and television. The strengths in having dance and drama introduced early at schools alongside sport seem to be their collective emphasis on participation; simply just having a dip. Whether you want to be Bogart, Baryshnikov or Barry Hall, the important thing remains to be just be staying active, enjoying what you do and not worrying how you look while you do it.
It’s bittersweet that drama is only offered as a school subject in year seven at my school. On stage right, it means your appetite is adequately whetted for a world of extracurricular dramatic opportunities but on stage left, it seems too brief a taste. Drama is important as it can not only help expose hidden talents and strengths but it can also get kids making friends while working together creatively. Let’s face it, the arts in Melbourne are always in need of some young blood and it is mainly through school activities that our future stars are going to have their inner passions ignited. As Chris Lilley’s drama teacher character Mr. G would say ‘drama changes lives!’ I’m not sure to what extent drama has changed my life but it has certainly enriched it a lot more than doing maths problems has.