Dane Noble is a teacher at Whittington Primary School. His year 3-4 class has participated in WEYA’s residency program at the school. He kindly took a break from his school holiday bathroom renovation project to talk to me about his experience of the program.
WEYA’s residency program at Whittington has run over two ten week terms, both last year and this year. Dane explained how the first term of each program is a series of theatre workshops, and the second term is about putting together a play that students then perform for their school community. This year’s production, Arabian Nights, will take place at the school on 18 August.
Talking about his first term working with the WEYA teaching team, Dane said:
‘I didn’t realize at the time that we were going through the whole story that we then created as a play. The way that process works is really effective for the kids.’
What he is particularly excited about, as a teacher, is the impact of the program, that permeates well beyond the bounds of the theatre workshops, into other areas of learning, the discussions that are sparked in the class room, and the ‘stories they write’.
The production they are currently working, is set in the Middle East and ‘that’s really interesting to have those conversations’, he says, pointing out that Wittington Primary is a relatively disadvantaged regional school, with many students who don’t have many opportunities to gain an expansive visions of the world.
He focuses in on the impact on students’ general sense of confidence and capacity. ‘It’s great for kids with different sorts of abilities’ he says, ‘some kids who might struggle with reading have an opportunity to come to the fore.’
And the inclusivity of the programs is also a plus for him: ‘last year we had 3 or 4 kids who had really low attendance, but they still had a role.’
I asked him what the WEYA residency had taught him about his students:
‘That element of those kids having an opportunity to be successful, even though they’re not reading at anything like the standard of their year level. If a kid is in year four and he can’t read well, then he isn’t in a good position to be feeling confident about his capacity to achieve… [what’s great about the WEYA program] …is the opportunities for success…’
And he gave this example:
‘This particular kid, he’s been asked a couple of times to read some lines. You can see he’s been told the line. He’s hanging around the back and repeating and repeating the line so he knows he’ll get it right. In this process he’ll sit there and he’ll work on it till he knows he can get it right. Kids who would, in other circumstances, just say ‘no I can’t do that’ can reach that success, and learn about the process of learning, having multiple opportunities to get it right. He was practicing and practicing. You find out about [the students’] resilience, that comes out in a different way.’
Dane also talked about the cumulative value of the program over the two-year period that it’s been running:
‘Kids that are repeating, you can see their confidence, in the way they’re acting. Learning how to actually talk to the crowd, you can see how they’ve retained that learning. One of the stars from last year, you can see how he’s showing the others how to do it.’
I asked about where they are at in the process. ‘We’re at the point now of running through the play and figuring out who’s going to take what role’, he explained. This is not a simple process, he explains, because each of the kids is given a role, and some lead roles are shared around. Last year there were ‘three different Hades’, for example.
Dane is anticipating that Arabian Nights will be a bit of a big deal for the school community. Talking about the production last year he said:
‘They [the WEYA teaching artists] don’t just chuck them up on stage and say “have a go”. They go the whole hog. Big performance, great set, great lighting… Six classes performed on the same day. There was a massive parent turn out. That showed something about how it was valued both by the kids and by the families.’
So I asked him to say more about the parents, and the Whittington community, and what he’d learned about them through the process:
‘It was interesting for me to see the parents that did turn up’, Dane reflected, explaining that he’s only been living in the area for the two years that he’s been teaching at Whittington Primary, so he’s still getting to know the neighbourhood:
‘There was that element of not being part of the community and not knowing who they were’ he said, but he really appreciated the opportunity to connect with parents ‘outside of the formal teacher interview’, which was the main forum in which he’d met them previously.
His impression is of a community that is significantly less economically and educationally advantaged, compared to the inner city school where he previously taught. He remembers when he started this job, being surprised about the expectation that he wear a suit and tie to meet with parents, and how the principle explained that “when the parents come to see us, we’re probably one of the most formal people they see in their lives”. Dane goes on to explain that:
‘For many of these parents, their other experiences with authority are often not very good. So seeing that many people engaged with the drama program…it’s amazing to see that kind of engagement with parents and a sense of building an understanding of the shared process of learning, and building respect and trust in these communities. The school is gradually building that respect in the community, and the Western Edge project has helped to build that.’
Dane sums up our chat, saying that:
‘The key message that I want to get across is that element of – its not just going in for a little drama class. There are great education benefits. The facilitators obviously know what they are doing. I love going in there and knowing that it’s going to be organized and knowing that the kids are going to have fun. It’s not just a fun play where someone dresses as a tree. There’s actually great educational depth to it. I know I enjoy it and I think most of the other teachers do to.’
Visit our shows page for details of the upcoming production of Arabian Nights.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts
WEYA’s residency program at Whittington Primary School is supported by the Kimberly Foundation.