by Heather Crown • Studio9 Independent School of the Arts
I have a question for you and I want an honest answer: what was your favourite memory from school? I’m going to guess that it wasn’t the end of year math exam that you had to take or the big English essay that you had to write. Now, if I was actually going to guess your favourite school memory it had to do with friends, field trips or a fun class, perhaps art, drama or band.
I get the impression that people think art is easy and therefore an arts education is easy too – there can’t be anything further from the truth. What is easy, relatively speaking, is sitting in a classroom, reading from a textbook and writing a test. That is easy. Traditional education demands that students memorize information and keeps the teacher in charge of knowledge and learning.
What traditional education doesn’t do is demand that students take control of their learning. An arts education demands a lot from students. An arts education demands critical and creative thinking; it demands communication and collaboration; and it demands respect and responsibility for self, others and the environment. An arts education requires students to find and understand their strengths and apply them in many different activities and situations. It is also a safe space to learn and explore vulnerabilities and skills that are not yet developed. Growth and development are driven by self-reflection and the student’s desire to improve.
In my mind, mounting a theatre show is one way to demonstrate each and every one of the skills above. At Studio9 everyone and I mean everyone, is involved in a theatre show. While the director is in charge of the show itself, they need all of the departments: actors/actresses, sets, props, costumes and crew to get the show onto the stage. This kind of project demands everyone to think critically and creatively. For example, the set designers need to make backgrounds that work for the stage, be environmentally conscious and meet the director’s vision. If an idea is not communicated properly or the right questions are not asked, whole set pieces could be done incorrectly and then have to be redone to meet the director’s specifications. I think collaboration is self-evident, but a theatre show requires a lot of people to get it to the stage and if one department/person does not meet a deadline, it affects everyone else on the team.
A theatre show is a situation where students understand their strengths and refine their skills. Whether it’s acting or crew, students can find their role. Actors/actresses can have lead roles and memorize lots of lines, they can have a supporting role and have less lines or they can be in the ensemble with a group of other students. Ensembles are a great way to introduce the concept of acting or a great place to be if a student is just starting out and still has a bit of stage fright. Supporting the people on stage is also very important so crew members learn and develop a niche set of skills as well. Students who are crew members design and make props and costumes, move sets on stage and can learn the leaderships skills needed to become assistant stage manager (ASM) or stage manager (SM). For all students the question becomes where do I fit right now?
The final lesson that an arts education teaches actors and crew alike is failure and flexibility. I think it’s safe to say that no director has ever had the first rehearsal and then thought ‘perfect, we are ready for opening night’. To bring a big collaborative work to the stage there are going to be failed scenes, failed costumes, props that don’t work and growth in character development. There are going to be lights that pale out the actors/actresses on stage and sound cues that are just not 100% right. In these situations, the actor/actress or crew doesn’t give up and walk away. They reflect on what isn’t working, use critical and creative thinking skills and morph their piece into something that will work. They have to be ready for failure, to take what they currently have and refine it to put on the best show possible. Everyone works together for the collective goal of putting on the show. That takes teamwork.
Once the show is over, it is important to reflect and talk about what worked well and how next time can be better. This happens at the personal level, the student collective level, the staff level and finally the production team level. We all ask ourselves where can I/we grow? This reflection/growth time is where a lot of vulnerabilities can be explored.
Now, take all of those skills and learning opportunities from a theatre production and imagine them in a classroom setting. Whether it be an art class or a social studies class, the classroom is the place where students control their learning. Students have the common goal of learning concepts within their grade level but they have multiple paths to get there. Students get the choice of how to complete their work and they also reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. They take charge of their learning and the teacher becomes the guide. The teacher becomes a mentor and helps students decide when to stay with their strengths and when to explore something new, all within the context of BC curriculum.
If you’re still wondering why this is important, all you have to do is think back to last year. If there is anything 2020 has taught us, it is that people need to be prepared to navigate new and unknown situations. This was especially true for students as an entire semester’s worth of education was delivered online. In March, students didn’t know what Zoom was and by April they were receiving and handing in assignments virtually. For teachers and students alike, being prepared for new situations helped us deal with a global pandemic.
So back to that favourite memory. If you ask students at Studio9, most of them will reply with some kind of arts project they have completed, our annual trip to Camp Owaissi or being at the Rotary Centre of the Arts (RCA) putting on a theatre show. It is in these situations that the older students become mentors for the younger ones and everyone gets to be themselves. The distinction between teacher/student becomes less pronounced and we become more like a family. This is because every person has strengths to share with the rest of the group and we use our skills to work towards common goals.
Since you can’t go back and do your education again, what if you could send your child(ren) to a school where they came home with a favourite memory every day and an education where arts are focused on in every class? That school exists right here in Kelowna, BC.
Heather Crown has been teaching middle and high school at Studio9 for ten years. She specializes in the humanities as well as creative writing and technical theatre. She also produces their yearly shows. When not at school you can find her doing yoga, meditation, reading and gardening.