from 'Idiosyncrasies and Other Tendencies' by Lauren Noble
I was just 23 years old when a Head of Drama opportunity, quite literally, landed in my lap. Our family friend who was working at the same school I had interviewed for (and failed to secure almost exactly a year before) phoned my Mom and told us the same job had just become available. I interviewed with a completely different attitude this time, having secured my PGCE, taught at the amazing Thomas More College for an entire term under the mentorship of two of the most passionate teachers and even had time to dabble in a few creative projects since the last time I was sitting in front of the same three interviewers. I was put in charge of a small but soon-to-be formidable Drama department. There was a difference of only five years between myself and my first group of Matric students who began their journey with me with noticeable apprehension: the barriers were up, the questions were quick and the passion for the arts was certainly the underlying factor that bound us all... eventually. I owe a great debt to those six Matrics who may never fully comprehend how much their camaraderie helped catapult me into a head space where anything was possible in a Drama classroom. All you needed was a shared love for the theatre, a willingness to engage in tough discussions about human nature and, of course, a feeling of support and strength during the tough times. They did more for the teacher in me than many of my teachers did for the learner in me during my formative years.
It had been 7 years since my new school had put on a full scale production which meant that, whilst teaching lessons, many of the practicalities of the theatre industry had to be explained rather than simply being understood. I was shocked beyond words (which does not happen often, I assure you!) when one of my students asked me who the Beatles were?! It was becoming more and more obvious that I was going to need to craft a production that accessed an abridged and condensed theatrical and cinematic history whilst aiming to teach the more obvious practical skills associated with performing in a school play. And so Quantum Leap saw five school friends sucked into an X-box game controlled by the sinister GameMaster and his evil Minions. In order to clock the game they had to participate in a series of tasks related to significant historical moments from 1950 'til today! From homage to Grease incorporating some Elvis Presley to the teachers losing their minds when the boys took to the stage for Night Fever, from The Beatles as political activists to a Pitch Perfect showdown that energized everyone who witnessed it, Quantum Leap was the spark we needed to engage a new generation of performers, technicians. designers and writers at our school. It was also the first time I worked with my schoolbestie and a fellow lover of literature, theatre and dance. Every play I created at St Benedict School was only fulfilled due to the Superwoman-like powers of Mrs Downing who was always there to bounce ideas around, to provide advice and to inch me ever closer to the finish line when I felt like the finish line was no where in sight!
Any acting troupe, whether amateur or professional, who perform their first production for an official audience do so in the full knowledge that the bar will be set according to the success or failure of this show. Any performance which takes place after the first will be judged against this very specific standard and audiences have no qualms in stating this to you particularly in a school environment where you have primary school kids in the target market! The pure excitement that accompanied Quantum Leap as the first full length show in a while definitely added another notch to that bar which had been raised so passionately by our cast and crew. How on earth would we top that?! With Sashin Kandhai, that's how! This young performer astonished me when I went back to visit my old Drama Department at UKZN and I saw him on stage with incomparable Camilla Wolfson. These two first years (usually known for being shockingly lacking performers) lit up the stage with their chemistry and I became a firm fan. I started following their work at university and it was at the end of that year that I first saw Sash dance in a Flatfoot Training Company piece where my eyes hardly left him. He had such presence on stage; it was mesmerizing. It was only later we realised how much we actually had in common: we're both a little eccentric, we absolutely love costume design and playing dress up, and our work ethic is so closely matched we may even be twins! I invited Sash to officially choreograph our new production of Arabian Nights which took four popular tales from Indian, Middle Eastern and Persian mythology and contemporized them using different storytelling techniques. The mechanism which linked all of these stories was, you guessed it... dance! It was an absolute privilege to work with someone so passionate and so willing to rehearse a routine more times than our sanity would allow us just to ensure all our students had everything polished to perfection. Our show was unique enough to create a completely new set of expectations within the audience which, in an ever-changing theatrical industry, is an absolute must. I attribute much of this success to the work ethic of our choreographer and the passion he helped instill in our cast and crew.
It is my duty as a teacher to inculcate a sense of respect, a deep appreciation and an absolute acknowledgement of an instrument which, without proper guidance and understanding, can easily become one that is used for worse rather than for better. I am speaking, of course, of the voice! Students of theatre simply have to be taught that the voice is a place of deep conflict because it has the power to speak ideas into actions... but what if those ideas are deeply rooted in hatred instead of love, in apathy rather than empathy? Footloose: The Remix takes its inspiration from the box-office hit that catapulted Kevin Bacon into the limelight but instead of a single character entering a religious town that has a painful reason for banning all music and dance, Footloose: The Remix introduces us to seven characters who attend a school where all creative subjects have been banned. The final speech from the character of MJ came directly from me and it was a message not only to my students but to parents and teachers who have the power to make or break a young person's journey. It is never alright for anyone, let alone someone in a position of power, to negate the worth of a subject because they do not understand it. When a young person needs support to take a definitive step into their own happiness (even if that happiness is Music instead of Maths, or Physics instead of Physical Education!) then this has to be acknowledged! An important message in an ever-changing world were forcing students into antiquated boxes with out-of-date career advice is no longer the answer...
My time at SBS was coming to a close as I had recently applied for a job at a new school in Dubai, UAE. My Matric Drama Class of 2016 were truly my children because I'd taught them since Grade 8 - their first year of high school in South Africa. For this reason my co-director and I decided we would actually take a role in the production and she was cast as The Narrator whilst I played the role of The Constable in a stage adaptation of the vintage board game Clue. The play is set in the Carmichael Mansion on the night of a special dinner to celebrate the anniversary of Mrs and Dr Carmichael. Relationships are fraught with tension with every character being introduced to the audience before, all of a sudden, someone at the party goes missing! Soon a series of ransom notes crop up around the mansion, each appearing to point a finger to a new culprit at the anniversary party. Will the audience manage to figure out the mystery and help the characters discover the truth... or will time, as always, run out? I have such fond memories of this theatrical process because the cast who helped bring it to life were such a comfort after a long day at school. They each had their own strengths and weaknesses, each had their own path during the school day and often these paths seldom crossed but as soon as they stepped foot into my Drama class something special would take place. They were supportive, helpful and dedicated to their craft and the act of bringing this story to life excited them as much as it excited me. This production made my last few months at SBS some of the most wonderful I'd ever had there!
© Lauren Noble for Collab Company via 'Idiosyncrasies and Other Tendencies' | 2017
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