‘Okay everyone. Let’s have some quiet please. I want you all, one by one, to go to the centre of the floor, and make a shape. Each person has to join up to another person, and I want you to be creative and silent. Now, who wants to go first?’
The request to me as a drama novice sounds rather bizarre, but for Ferne Reynolds, teacher and founder of The Drama Scene (a theatre group running Lamda-accredited courses – see bottom right for more info), the response is unanimous. Fifteen pairs of hands shoot into the air and there are simultaneous cries of, ‘Me! Please Miss! Me!’
One canny little lad sitting quietly gets the go-ahead to make the first shape but, within five minutes, the dance studio floor is filled with kids balancing on one leg, striking star poses and making ambitious bridge shaped arches. It’s like a giant game of twister. There are suppressed giggles and gasps as they try to maintain their positions – and it suddenly strikes me that, not only is this an exercise in discipline for these excitable eight to 12-year-olds, but it’s also quite physically demanding. Clearly, it’s an activity everyone enjoys.
But if shape-making gets them excited, it’s nothing compared to the gleeful cheers when Ferne announces it’s time to ‘improvise’. The children decide to mime a busy supermarket scene, with all the characters that entails. Once again, they go up one by one, while Ferne advises them to cooperate and make their mimes work together. While the previous activity concentrated on creative discipline, this one is about controlled teamwork. And they love it.
In fact, they’re enjoying themselves so much that it all becomes a bit chaotic. These are kids after all and, soon, pretend supermarket trolleys are being pushed at high speed and cashiers are fainting all over the place. But the point is that their talent for the miming exercise is exceedingly impressive.
‘Children have fantastic imaginations,’ says Ferne, who teaches drama to kids as young as four. ‘But not all children have the confidence to perform. We offer a safe environment where they can build their confidence and interact with children outside their immediate peer group.’
And it certainly seems to work. It’s a friendly class where no one gets left out, and even potential shrinking violets get stuck into the action.
Lily Ward, aged 10, is a prime example. She joined the group two months ago, and admits her shyness was holding her back. ‘It’s not easy standing up in front of everyone and performing,’ she says. ‘But I am a lot more confident now because the classes are fun and everyone is nice.’ Lily also enjoys the guidance she gets from the lessons. ‘I love the script work because making up stories is one of my favourite activities. I even write plays in my spare time at home, so this has been helpful.’
Sophie Harris, aged 11, agrees: ‘This class gives you the freedom to be as dramatic as you want – and that makes you feel good about yourself. There’s a really strong creative element. It’s great fun.’ Self esteem, it seems, can be boosted by the bucketload in just a few classes. Ferne explains, ‘Drama is so much more than just standing in front of a class or performing on a stage. It teaches children about perspectives.
It shows them how to have empathy, and helps them build the vital skills of concentration, cooperation, confidence and consideration. We refer to these as the four Cs.’
Ten-year-old Jamal Ollier is a good example of the four Cs – and has lofty ambitions when it comes to acting. A pro among the group, he’s been a member of his school drama club for two years. ‘My dream job is to be an actor, and the enthusiasm in these classes just makes me want to do it even more. If I could play anyone in a film, it would be The Terminator from the first movies. I’m really into sci-fi,’ he says.
And age is no barrier to honing young skills, says Ferne. ‘People may think that four is too young to start drama, but experience has taught me to never underestimate the potential of a four-year-old. It’s amazing to see how well children of this age respond to drama and how much they enjoy it. Like ballet or sports, the earlier children begin the better they become.’
Alexander Barkman, aged nine, agrees. A comical ball of energy, he likes the group because it’s sociable. ‘Everyone is really nice and I’ve made some good friends, he says, ‘I’m quite a confident person anyway, so shyness wasn’t a problem. But I love the miming and the teamwork best of all.’
Classes teach role play, creative movement, speech, poetry and interaction with props, to name but a few. Sessions for older age groups focus more on acting technique, improvisation, theatre terminology and vocal work. Musical Theatre sessions work towards an end-of-term performance and are popular with teens who want to learn singing, dancing and acting. For younger performers, the term often ends in a show class where mums and dads get to watch.
Children between the ages of four and 17 years can register for the weekly classes, based at Ductac at www.dramascenedubai.com; email@example.com.
What is Lamda?
Lamda (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) is an established drama school with the largest board of speech and drama examinations. Participating in Lamda exams allows students the opportunity to measure their progress against an internationally applied standard.