Sunday, 4 October 2015

Lessons From The Stage


Musical theatre. Some people love it same people hate it but the fact is there is much to learn from being involved in this kind of project.  At St Andrew’s College we endeavour to give as many students to opportunity to be involved in musical theatre as possible – three difference major productions this year involving over 280 students. (I direct two of these and help out with the third.) 

Teaching the theatre has many attributes that, IMHO, should be mandatory. I could go on for hours about the benefits of this but today I will touch on two reasons
Challenge and Collaboration. 

Being involved in theatre challenges the self.
Whether it be developing and playing a role, dancing for the first time publically, making sense of the context of the piece, learning challenging music or taking on a technical role there are many learning challenges to be met along the way. 

The challenge experienced by the student is like no other learning. Their work is going to be live and on display. There is no way of hiding if you are unprepared. If you make fumble lines or sing a in the wrong place – everyone can see,  You must learn to deal with these mistakes – it is part of learning, it’s part of life. Being part of a group project like this is significant.

Time and again I see students create and perform work they didn’t know they could. To me, this is precisely as all learning should be    a joyful challenge, hard, develops our strengths, sometimes tedious, paying attention to detail, demands your full attention and demands the best of you … because I think this is the learning we remember best. 

Creating theatre is truly collaborative. Theatre is all about people and stories. The creative team consists of actors, dancers, musicians, designers, technicians, publicists and volunteers. Everyone has a vision about the story we are trying to tell.  We work to our strengths, we differ in opinion and we are always solution focused.   It is a massive group task. One of my favourite parts of creating theatre is that we work to our strengths and respect those with the skill in their area. 

In my school context, students often make offers about they way something might go and we build on those. Students see creative teams working together.  Students understand that each area has some constraints that affect another area. They realize that creativity springs from constraints rather than being stifled by them.

We have senior students who come back to work with juniors in choreography, directing, costume, makeup, technical roles. As they take a greater part in the collaboration process they in turn develop their skills. The collaborate with us not as teacher-student but as co-collaborators creating a story. By working to my strengths as a performer and director, I have also learnt from others and developed new strengths that feeds back into my practice.

I believe more classrooms should be like this – working to our strengths instead of insisting everyone does everything. Designing learning so that individuals are part of a collective project is not only highly productive but highly engaging.  Setting up learning so that students and teachers rely on each other’s skills, develop relationships and see our own set of skills as part of a greater whole.

Theatre provides rich opportunities for learning beyond the complex task of performing. When regular classrooms design around the principles in theatre I think students and teachers engage in meaningful, exciting learning.  Challenge and Collaboration are only two of many principles - get alongside performing arts teachers and find out what is happening in your place.  

“…And we are led
to those who help us most to grow
if we let them
and we help them in return …”
 from Wicked – Stephen Schultz

Ginnie Thorner
Performing Arts
St Andrew’s College


  1. A great read Ginnie - thanks so much! We can all take "lessons from the stage". Challenge & collaboration are essential skills for all our learners. Love seeing the rich learning that happens when creating theatre. Awesome!

  2. Fabulous the way you have expressed the concepts of (joyful) challenge and true collaboration (We work to our strengths, we differ in opinion and we are always solution focused) through theatre

  3. Such a great post, Ginnie. You are an incredibly talented performing arts teacher and I love learning from you. Your students are very lucky. So excited about Anything Goes!