by Sally Orr
Co director at Drama Queens and longtime drama group facilitator
For the young children who run into our studio every week with smiles on their faces, there is an excitement about being part of a group; maybe with friends from school, or perhaps, with their new friends from the new group. There is the promise of learning something new and fun, or taking part in an invigorating or relaxing activity.
Since we established our theatre sessions, workshops and performances many years ago, we have consistently found that the younger and older children forge new friendships outside school. This is important in helping them establish their own identity at all stages of development from an early age up to the sometimes turbulent teenage years.
This is where the drama comes in – social skills are a part of our everyday lives and as we know, we start developing them at a very early age. By using the techniques that are available to us in the creative arts, we are able to lay the foundations that help build the confidence to use these skills. Friendships formed in groups outside school can create a world for children to escape to if there are troubles within school friendships groups, or can simply act as an extra layer to existing friendship groups.
Together with this, working within a creative framework can be a freeing and relaxing time for a child of any age, whether they are six or 16. We know that where confidence and low self-esteem are an issue, acting out, role-playing and using imagination can dramatically (please excuse the pun!) increase these in abundance, especially when encouraged in a nurturing environment.
Self-expression can be difficult, but all children and young adults deserve a way to express themselves; be it the child who likes to make shapes with their body to tell a story through the medium of dance, the teenager that likes to act out scenarios through improvisation and character, a person that can sing the phone book or someone that can use a pen and paper to draw their imagination. Every individual student should be able to find a medium that is best suited to them and be given the opportunity to have a creative outlet to express themselves.
The first thing I always notice and often hear said about why teenagers enjoy drama groups is the social aspect of them. Often the older children come along and really gel as a group; it’s a space away from their normal friends and school, homework, a place where they can come and enjoy drama and enjoy the sociability of a different group. It’s a place where new friends can be made and bonds formed, especially important if they are finding it difficult to make friends at school. The start of secondary school can be a particularly tough time, especially if friendship groups formed in primary school have broken up, as children go to different schools. Three of our drama groups are made up of young people who all love acting and drama and who used to go to the same schools. This is a place for them to meet weekly, and the friendships then can extend beyond school and college.
Confidence is tricky. There is no magical way to ‘become ‘ more confident overnight. However, it is well-known that being part of a drama class can help a child become more confident, if taken in consistent sessions. These might take the form of being part of an ensemble or group working on acting skills or perhaps working towards a small or larger part in a play with the support of the rest of the group. Two scenarios stand out for me from my experience as a group leader – I especially enjoy speaking to parents who say, “My child was so shy, they couldn’t speak to anyone, now they are more confident, now they can stand up in front of class at school and speak in front of everyone else.” Equally, a teenager struggling to be ‘heard’ in other areas of their life might develop the confidence to speak up, to go to an interview or to be more assertive with friends. There is also no doubt that many young people find that performing in front of friends and family, or complete strangers, is an exciting, often exhilarating opportunity to show a different side of themselves.
Exploring children’s ideas and concerns through the arts allows children a voice for debate and question in a controlled environment. They won’t just make assumptions, they will find the courage to ask questions and to express what they really want to say. They can start this journey by using the techniques that the performing and creative arts provide. Children from tots to teens realise that they can begin to reach for goals they may not have thought possible and this will spill over into every area of life.
By allowing children the freedom of speech and confidence to share their thoughts, ideas and opinions in a safe environment at a young age, a happy healthy teen will evolve and in time become a confident young adult.
Sally and Debbie have been running Drama Queens in Brighton for 14 years and offer groups for those from 5 to 18 years old.
Please see www.dramaqueens.biz for futher details.