Buzzing with excitement, our Arts & Education team attended the Drama Australia National Conference in December 2018, held at the Victorian College of the Arts. Hosted by Drama Victoria, the annual conference provides professional learning opportunities for Drama Educators in Victoria, supporting and advocating for Drama Education. It’s a place for artists and educators to meet, greet and organise the year ahead. 2018 marked the 50th anniversary for Drama Victoria.
Often as the intermediary between artists and schools, Regional Arts Victoria finds importance in the connection, knowledge sharing and peer-to-peer learning that occurs in national arts focused shindigs. Hundreds of the country’s most passionate and dedicated Drama educators met with buoyant positive energy.
The conference kicked off with a Welcome to Country, followed by a live performance by True Culture. A warm and inspiring introduction from John Nicholas Saunders, Education Manager at Sydney Theatre Company and President of Drama Australia motivated listeners advocating for drama education.
The theme of the conference was Continuum: Drama Education past, present and future. Attendees were invited to consider this imperative in Australia by engaging in research, contributing in discussions and sharing and learning techniques of best practice.
As a peak advocacy body presenting inspiring and educationally relevant arts experiences across the state, it was a wonderful opportunity for Regional Arts Victoria to have a presence at day one of the event. The importance and relevance of our work was ever apparent. The Arts & Education team works with teachers addressing barriers to arts through touring subsidies and child-led experiences, with scope to work with teachers supporting the advocacy of arts education within the school. It was informative and inspiring listening to the speakers illustrating the impacts of arts in education and children’s wellbeing throughout the day.
Susan Sprason, educator with a wealth of teaching experience, performer and children’s author, presented How engagement in Drama enhances confidence, self-esteem an d mental health, impacting student learning and engagement in other subject areas such as English, Maths and Science.
This presentation addressed the needs of current and future students, and how Drama educators can assist students to develop confidence, self-esteem, and impact their well-being and sense of self (identity) for the long-term. We can acknowledge the efficacy of the method currently in practice, and there is scope to explore what practical steps can be taken to extend these methods across the curriculum. The evidence-based research presented, addressed continuance through research conducted in Australia, the UK, Canada and the USA, and looks at how engagement in Drama can impact learning in areas such as English, Maths, Science.
Theatre, Industry and Education: Where are we now? We could we be? was a session prompting deep investigation. The afternoon discussion saw Drama and Theatre educators, arts organisations and industry creatives address the current relationship and intersection between drama and theatre education and contemporary arts practice. Second to this primary question, participants explored what is current best practice in education programs delivered by arts organisations (encompassing theatre companies and independent artists).
This valuable conversation provided an opportunity to better understand the challenges and successes from each perspective, which both foster a shared vision: broadening engagement of children and young people in formative arts experiences. Teachers provided insight into the challenges they face, prompting audiences to consider how arts education programs can work to avoid or minimalise these hurdles. Scheduling issues, financial costs, and having buy-in from other areas of the school, can all present challenges for teachers. Artists and arts organisations face their own challenges, however systemic limitations were questioned by both artists and schools. Particularly, artists questioned how we consider the impact of art being brought to schools, and the ways of articulating its value. Time, money and advocacy restraints can all affect the measurable value one-off and long-term programs. For artists, the value is ‘deep sustained engagement’ inspiring legacy for the child, the school and community. Continuance. And reciprocity. Addressing the ways artists engage with schools is something Regional Arts Victoria is expanding on this year. Meeting and speaking with teachers one month into the year, is already demonstrating the need for deeper and sustained engagement with arts programs. It is a challenge balancing business with creative inspiration.
Another limitation effecting regional and remote schools, or schools facing disadvantage is that of access. But perhaps more so in the sense that artists in society must constantly articulate their value – being paid for the work – and schools sometimes can’t support that. So artists may then become reluctant to make their work available through freely accessible streaming programs, even though this may be the best emerging way for schools to engage with creative projects. It says a myriad of things about the nature of change in education needs and artistic forms. Do artists need to document their work in a way that allows for streaming and accessibility? Some further considerations and challenges were apparent from both sides of the conversation although it was clear that there was a common goal for all – bring more accessible arts to more young people, within a framework of passion for Drama and Education.
To wrap up the afternoon attendees were treated to a show titled The Greatest Love of All performed by a group of enthusiastic teachers, sharing their journeys as educators and lovers of drama. It was a joyous celebration. I take my hat off to Drama and Theatre educators in Australia. The 2018 Drama Australia National Conference was a testament to and a celebration of their tireless work to bring Drama and Theatre education to young people, passing down knowledge and championing the arts, and its lasting impact on the lives of so many future artists, audiences and educators.
Pippin Davies is Regional Arts Victoria’s Arts & Education Manager. Our Arts & Education program provides inspiring arts experiences to children and young people throughout Victoria. It forms part of Regional Arts Victoria’s Programming Team, connecting artists and producers to diverse audiences across the country.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Talk with Pippin Davies
Manager Arts & Education
03 9644 1800
Images by Pippin Davies
- Siobhan Connors and Pippin Davies represent!
- Drama Australia Conference Trade Hall
- The Greatest Love of All, performance by a collective of Drama Educators