Theatre for Change: A New Approach to Drama

In 2015, the NIST Drama Department developed a special unit in Year 11 that focused on the power of drama to create change in the world. The goal was for students to develop skills in the course that they could then use to impact a community positively by drawing attention to both local and global issues. An extension of this unit has become an annual service theatre trip involving clowning, a powerful communication tool, as clowns have the ability to communicate universally without the hinderance of language barriers.

In the first year of the unit’s implementation, students traveled to Cambodia and presented a clown piece to six local schools, educating young people on the perils of migration and forced labour. The second year saw a group of clowning students return to Cambodia with a piece called “A Teaspoon of Change” with the idea of promoting local environmental sustainability practices.

This year, in November, year 11 students traveled to Chiang Dao and engaged in a very unique service programme. Instead of only bringing a previously created performance to a community, the students led workshops for local high school students. The local students, who had never studied drama or clowning, worked with our own to create, develop and perform a collaborative piece called “Celebrating Us!”. The goal of project and performance was to share and merge our diverse backgrounds and cultures in a theatre experience that focused on clowning skills and a celebration of collaboration.

NIST students also had the opportunity to work with Thai theatre artists at the Makhampon Art Space to learn new skills and enhance their performances further. On the final day, our students spent time with younger children in a nearby Dara-Ang village and presented their revised performances to a village audience in the evening. Without language, they bonded over laughter.

This unit has become one of the most rewarding units in our drama curriculum and as Year 11 student Kaede Miyazawa said on returning to school after the Makhampon trip, “This experience has changed my life. I thought service was about giving! But I now know I have received far more than I gave away on this trip!”  

 

Dust and Dreams: An Original NIST Musical

“I don’t want to go to bed!” As parents, how many times have we heard these words? Too many, I imagine many of you saying. At the performances of Dust and Dreams in April, audiences were confronted by not one, but fifty confident eight and nine-year-olds from Year 2 and Year 3 pouting, complaining and sticking their tongues out with this message resolutely on their lips: “You can’t break me! Sleep won’t take me!”

Dust and Dreams is an original twenty-minute musical created by NIST elementary music teachers Craig Chambers, Mark Bourgeois and technical experts Surasak Kerdsin and Goravee Tipsuk specifically for our NIST students. It tells the tale of a young girl, Sanya, who argues with her parents about when is the right time for an eight-year-old to go to bed. As mum gives her an ultimatum–“Five minutes, missy!”–and dad does what he’s told, they leave her to get ready for bed. After cheekily revealing her pajamas underneath her day clothes, Sanya is at first dismissive and then grudgingly intrigued by a book her father has found from his childhood days.

As she reads the words in the book, The Sandman, it casts a spell on the young girl as she unknowingly invokes the title character, who dances around her room summoning and directing the spirits called the horrors and the sprites during the dream song “The Sandman”. As the dreams pass through degrees of comforting and disturbing images, Sanya is entranced and then shocked by the images being conjured, suddenly screaming and collapsing on the bed. She gradually falls asleep as the Sandman calms her by sprinkling her with magic sand.

When her parents return after five minutes, they find Sanya fast asleep with the book on her head; they know nothing of the disturbing presence of the Sandman and gazing lovingly on their daughter’s cuteness. The show ends with the rousing finale song “Follow Your Dreams” which points to the power that dreams have to paint images and experiences from our lives and perhaps even give us future paths and ideas as we grow.

Enthusiastic audiences loved the show, and the parallel casts of lead characters brought humour and expression to the roles despite their tender age. The cast’s passionate singing filled the room, leaving the audience singing the tunes as they left the specially adapted NIST Performance Studio. When all the words were sung and spoken and all the dust and dreams had been swept away, who is to say whether the show sent a message to young audience members on how to behave when going to bed at night? Perhaps it even encouraged them into further mischief. Surely not…but then we can all look cute when we’re asleep, right?

If you would like to know more about the NIST Elementary Music Department musicals, visit Mad Musicals.