Friday, 29 June 2018

How Drama Class gave me a World View!

Growing up in Durban I was exposed to so many different cultures and backgrounds. Human nature is to gravitate to individuals who are most like you - as a young child I would never step out the box and befriend children who werent similar to me in Likes and Dislikes. Everything changed when I started studying Drama and Performance studies in High School and University. Here is how participating in Drama Class shaped me into a more empathetic and open-minded human being.

I attended a lovely High school made up of 1100 girls. When you put us all next to eachother in school uniforms we all looked like we had similar middle class histories and homes. In Grade 11 my world view shifted; our Drama group was made up of various individuals, I never realized how different we all were until we had to meet outside of school to rehearse...Here I was a spoilt teenager who had my mother or father drive me around to wherever I needed to go. We planned to meet at my house on a Saturday afternoon, everyone arrived except Lerato (I have changed her name to protect her privacy). We had no way of getting hold of her as cell phones were for the elite and she definitely did not have one. Her friend caught a taxi to the local shops and we fetched her from there, she said that Lerato was catching another taxi...By fluke we decided to drive around the neighbourhood and by luck we saw her walking, kilometers from my house but determined to find the place. When our car stopped she was sweating and had probably been walking for over an hour. This was the first time drama shifted my world view. The extra work you need to put in and the negotiating of roles both in the play and outside of it, forced us to grapple with one another. It forced us to connect!

Fast Forward 6 years and I found myself in the most life-changing course...PRISON THEATRE. Out of 20 Honours year students only 5 of us elected this course. This course changed everything for me. For 2 weeks we entered the Westville Prison to do drama with 12 inmates from Medium B. We played many Drama games as ice breakers and got to know one another on a very basic level; these games created an open-door for all of us to share on a deeper level. In the second week things started to get more serious - Us graduates had to perform monologuse of how Crime had affected ourlives, the inmates had to perform a monologue on when they committed a crime. We used Augusto Boal techniques to break the scenes down and through this dialogue the opening of minds was tangible. We all had to swap roles and this forced us to shift perspectives.
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The light bulb for me went off that criminals are not 100% evil, they are the product of their histories and choices. For the Prisoners I believe that we broke down some walls, that the crimes they had committed had affected people, REAL, LIVING people. What I battled with most was going back home and being surrounded by friends who did not have the light bulb go off, they were not faced with real-life criminals, who had real raw emotions and were not the sum of their crimes. The prisoners battled to go back into prison where the other inmates would wolf whistle at us when we entered the prison - they too had not seen us up close and personal.

So where am I going with this, imagine a world where more people were forced to work with one another no matter their background, history and wealth. Imagine more people had more empathy and understanding. Perhaps I did not get a degree in commerce that would have made me more money - our world doesnt need more money-hungry people. Our world needs understanding, empathy and education! And this is just the tip of the iceberg of how Drama can develop an individual and a community. My driving motivation is to get Developmental Drama to every individual - just imagine the world we would live in!!!
Different colours, sizes, shapes and forms...Drama Classes get us working together!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

I suffer with nerves too!!!

Kerry at Parent Presentations, dry mouthed only now and again :)

Growing up you could say I was a confident child, however when it came to orals or presentations
a few physical reactions would happen. I would get dry mouthed and this made talking and presenting extremely difficult. I never presented with cue cards because my hands would shake uncontrollably and then I would be so worried about this that I would forget what I was presenting. Over the years I have had to manage these physical reactions and I can definitely say that experience has helped. I am a true believer of fighting and not' flighting' in these cisucumstances.

Two Fridays ago one of our newer students was battling through the rehearsal, his nerves were tangible and as I do I asked him in front of everyone...this is our conversation:

Kerry: "What could possibly go wrong?"
Student:"Lots!"
Kerry:"Such as ?"
Student: "I could fall in front of everyone"
Kerry: "Have you fallen once in rehearsal?"
Student: "No!" - His face starts to crack into a smile as he realizes his imagination is getting the best of him.
Kerry: "Do you think the parents will point and laugh if you fall?"
Student: "Yes!" at this point his imagination takes over again - I realize Im losing to his mind again.
Kerry: "No ways they will laugh, they are here to support not break you down"
Student: "What if I forget my lines?"
Kerry: "Then I will feed them to you, or you use you dramatic skill and improvise! Its really not that serious if theres errors guys, no one is dying so we are going to survive this"
The class cracks up laughing and we go on to have the funnest rehearsal we could have had.

I remember feeling so silly for getting nervous, teachers would never address the nerves or equip me. Thats why I love our teachers and curriculum, we talk it out and we equip our children to deal with their nerves.

I recently read such an interesting article In Today's Parent by Kate Winn. The author consulted several experts on performance anxiety and nerves in children.

One expert highlighted 3 factors that are at play when we get nervous:
1.) The natural temperament a person is born with.
2.) 30-40% of anxiety is genetic, so some kids will get anxious because its in them genetically.
3.) Learned behaviours and negative experience can play games with you.

I was thrilled to read these 3 factors because in my experience I have some very anxious students and some chilled ones. The first 2 factors we cannot assist with...however the 3rd factor is where the Helen O'Grady curriculum is so wonderful. Through positive experience and positive presentations and productions we are able to debunk learned behaviours of thinking public speaking is scary. We are able to give them positive experiences that will help them on their next performance.

Man I wish I had this Academy as a child!!!

(This Blog refers to Todays' Parents article by Kate Winn, 16 November, 2016.)
https://www.todaysparent.com/kids/kids-health/performance-anxiety-2/

Sunday, 10 June 2018

The Role of OUR Audience

I googled 'what is the role of the audience' and this beautiful definition popped up from https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/what-role-audience-performance-392104:

"The audience is the body of theatre-goers the playwright had in mind when he/she wrote the play. ... The role of the audience could also be to encourage the actors through their appreciation and applause. The audience also acts as a barometer for public opinion about the play." 

From my past experience and having presented over 80 parent presentations and over 80 productions, I have realized that our society needs to be reminded of the role they play as an audience. It is not the intention of an audience to sit there dull-faced, inside I am sure they are jumping with joy, I truly believe that they have forgotten that the actors can see them and feed off of their energy more than they feed off of the actors. So in every presentation and production you will hear me remind our audiences to "Be kind, smile at your children and make sure they feel supported as they put themselves out in the world! - Make this experience a positive one for them so that next time they arent hindered by 'what if's' ".

At our parent presentations on Friday I was blown away by the number of parents and friends who came along to support their little/big humans. As the room was filling up I was getting extremely nervous for the room, I had put out 74 chairs and thought my calculations were correct. However, over 90 people pitched and we were indeed squashed like sardines. 

As parents entered I was hoping my smile would soothe the stress of their Friday and week, Johannesburg is not for the faint hearted and we do suffer from very VERY busy lives! My smile was not enough for a few people, and I guess the squishedness was not helping matters. The show went on though and in my heart I knew that no matter what stress parents are under they will get present when they see their children perform. I was not wrong. Our students performed their hearts out, they conquered their nerves of seeing the audience up close and personal and the show went on. The audience was kind, smiled back, laughed and clapped...this had a ripple effect as the students gave more to their performance.

As promised the show lasted 60 minutes and I was relieved that we managed to pull off what we did in 8 weeks of drama classes. Our shy and confident students worked together to entertain!! I thought, surely we cannot get a more well supported group than this....fast forward to the next morning at the Berario Recreation and the audience did not disappoint; we added in an extra 20 chairs, gave everyone coffee and had the loveliest morning of drama!!! Fast forward to the afternoon. We had an open-air performance at Norscot Recreation Centre and the audience here were so lovely, they laughed and clapped and smiled back at their children.

So for me the role of our audience is to encourage the actor/their children so that they can feel vulnerable on stage but never ashamed or embarrassed. If we truly want to see great work we must truly work to be a wonderful audience!
One of our older students performing a monologue to a wonderfully supportive audience!


Pretty jam-packed

My heart beating super fast as more people enter and less space is available.

Our younger students shining on stage!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

The self-motivated Student

What motivates you? What gets you up on the morning? When I was growing up I was a committed swimmer, I trained twice a day 5 days a week and once on a Saturday; I was an extremely competitive human and the need to win was my motivation.  

Fast forward to my teen years and swimming became a bit too competitive for me and I was in need for something that lit up my day. Swimming had become something that I was not very good at anymore and my world became a bit depressing...thats when I found drama class :) In High School we were able to select Drama as a subject and that is when I found my true love for playwrights, performance and group preparation. I truly miss the interactive side of drama, I had a friend who took the same subjects as I did through to to matric; I can honestly say that we messed around in biology, history and sometimes english but when it came to drama we put our game faces on. The stakes were too high when it came to practical work, first of all you need to work hard otherwise the proof will be in the performance, if you mess around you will look silly in front of your peers. 

Last year I had a group of youth theatre students who messed around during rehearsals, despite all my encouraging and motivating they just couldnt get focused, until productions. We had just completed an average rehearsal and had an hour to go until the performance; all of a sudden the cool kid of the group was focused, he was encouraging his peers to step up and he was determined to make the show a success. I have no idea what they did back stage in that 1 hour but man did they shine on that stage. They decided to step up...and thats what I love about drama and performance. We as teachers do our best to motivate and encourage but we try to resist too much nagging or pushing from our side, we want the students to be self-motivated. They need to make a decision for themselves to work hard and commit. In school students battle to find self-motivation but in drama class its them up on that stage confronting the world! Eventually the need to not look like a fool on stage fades away and all students want to do is perform with passion.

Drama is a feeling activity, where your hard work and commitment gets seen by your loved ones, peers and friends! The self-belief and self-motivation an individual gets from each performance cannot be measured but it can be felt! Its not about winning wards or breaking records, its about an exploration of creativity and self.
Students from our Berario Studio rehearsing hard for their parent presentations being held on 9 June 2018


Rehearsing and interacting. Through practical work students as young as 5 years of age are socializing and learning to interact and work with other individuals.

Here is Rachel on the right, she's been with the Academy since she was 10 years old. Naleli is on the left and she has been with us for nearly 4 years, she is now an assistant to Kerr's drama classes in Randpark. In the middle is one of our young students who won a free t-shirt for most energy in a rehearsal. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

2017 Productions

We have been so hectic with this year that my blog took a plunge...Apologies.

It has certainly been a wonderful year! Our Productions were jam-packed and of a very high standard. We had a few buttons who need support from the wings, but they got through it and I am sure that their next encounter with the stage is going to be even more successful.

We gave out loads of medals and trophies which included our nine and a half year trophy. Well done to Daniel, Marchella and Fabienne who have attended classes since 2008.

A few of our students are now legal and are leaving us to go study, my heart is sad but full and encouraged as I know they are going to fly with confidence when they tackle adulting and life.

Well done to all our performers!!!!!


Friday, 21 July 2017

Musical Holiday Stage School-a great success!

Last week I challenged my teachers and students to put together a Musical in a Week!! And the outcome was absolutely fabulous.

The Helen O’Grady Drama Academy in Cape Town has been doing their Holiday Stage School for ages...I thought it was about time that Gauteng got involved!

From Monday to Friday 31 students between the ages of 5-18 years attended our Stage school from 9-12pm everyday. They worked hard at various pieces of singing, dancing and acting, when Thursday came we pieced everything together and BOOM!!! We spent Friday exploring lights and staging and we ended off our last rehearsal getting the students to say one positive thing about someone they never knew before...it was wonderful to see everyone from different ages and backgrounds mixing and adoring one another. Our week was so jam-packed that we had no time for cliques, they just focused on their task at hand and the result was new friendships formed and a bond that was so great to watch on stage!
Last night the students managed to pull off a Musical in a Week and the parents were raving about how impressed they were that in 15 hours we put together the show that we did.
We were so lucky to have Pop Idols top 7 Finalist DenĂ© Vorster heading up our singing; 9 year Helen O'Grady Drama Academy  student Rachel Broll wrote and directed the scripts, and our Dancing was choreographed by the amazingly talented dancer Sarah Weirich. Without these enthusiastic facilitators we would never have achieved what we did.

The general consensus from audience, students and teachers boiled down to the word PASSION...it was our driving force from little ones to teenager to teacher, it was our passion for performance that got us there :)

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Parent Presentations-Berario Recreation Centre

On the 10th of June students from our Berario studio between the ages of 5-18 years of age performed their annual Parent Presentations!
These Presentations are an exciting opportunity for our drama students to showcase their talent and what they learnt over the past term.
Our 5-8 year olds performed an adorable mime to music and creative improvised drama for their families...the ooohs and aaahs from the crowd just showed how brave these luttle humans were!
Our 9-12 year olds worked hard throughout the term on a 3 page choral verse about living in a busy city...this piece explored the dynamic of their voices and how we can perform using our voices and faces! They also showed of a historical drama about William Tell and parents were entertained and educated at the same time.
Our teenage group wowed the crowd with their performances of a humorous script about relationships. They also show cased their talent with an entertaining improvisation that they made up an hour before the show!
We have our classes on Saturdays at the Berario Recreation Centre which is a safe, clean, convenient and friendly venue. The staff is outstanding and they are always willing to accommodate us. This is truly a community based centre for our community based academy ;)

Friday, 16 June 2017

Why Teaching a Drama Class will change your life!

I started teaching Drama classes in 2005. I was starting my Honors year at UKZN and I needed a part time job that could pay for my social life (oh to be young again). I thought I wanted to act and become a "star"! Then I started teaching and my whole world changed :) the amount of passion, joy and energy teaching had sparked inside of me...I just felt like I was in the right place. Don't get me wrong, I love performing, but jeepers teaching for me is so much more fun!

Teaching drama gives me the best of both worlds...I get to feel the joy and pride of watching a student grow as an individual, but I dont need to spend hours and hours marking. Thats why Ive stuck around with this Academy for so long. There is something so beautiful in the activity of drama without having to be judged, or graded on it. Without that added pressure students are able to open their minds up to being more creative and not worry about the outcome; its the process thats more important than the product!

So if I can offer any advice to anyone whose just graduated with their Drama Degree...go and teach part time. It is a humbling experience and you will very quickly see if you're meant to be acting, or teaching acting :) its also just so darn fun!!!

I'm in my 12th year of teaching for the Helen O'Grady Drama Academy...and every day I get to feel that same joy and excitement I felt on Day 1; to me it's like that moment you walk onto stage full of readiness, only my audience is up close and personal and I can directly see the impact I make on their lives. I know that I can get other jobs, I know I could probably make more cash working a solid 8-5 job...but where's the fun in that. I've watched my students grow from teeny tiny self-conscious 7 year olds, to overly confident and determined 17 year olds. The privilege of watching them grow is priceless!!!

Its just as Maya Angelou says "When you get, give. When you learn, teach".

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Boys can do Drama

So the holidays have ended and your son comes up to you and tells you they want to act. I have a giggle at the typical South African Dad and hear him saying under his breath "No child of mine will do drama, my boy will play rugby". Well Dad, have you ever thought that perhaps your son will be a Springbok Captain one day and need the confidence and social skills to Captain his team to Victory. Or perhaps he will be interviewed for Supersport and thus need to be able to construct sentences like a human being. Too many times we hear people singing David Beckhams praises, and then in short, write him off by saying "But have you heard him talk" - that right there Dads is proof that an entire SUCCESSFUL sporting career can be over-shadowed by poor speech habits. Look, you probably won't hear a woman or mother ever care for Beckham's career or his speech, as they'll be too busy looking at him...but that's besides the point.
So to you Dad's who decide that your child won't do drama as they needs sports - you also need a well-rounded child who can communicate confidently. I have a few teenage boys who are so overly-confident that they can laugh at themselves too; "what a teenaged boy that can laugh at himself?" I hear you ask. Yip, I have more than 1 in my Academy - BELIEVE IT!
In conclusion I would like to say - DRAMA CLASSES ARE FOR BOYS TOO :)
Pictured here is my Fourways Youth Students performing in the 2016 Production of Romeo and Juliet...some would say that a few of the BOYS in this play stole the show!






That's me and Dean, he's been with our Academy for almost 8 years and he won many a sporting award at his school for exceptional sporting talent. Proof that you can do Drama and Sports.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Dress up fun at Helen O'Grady Drama Academy

Our Primary students are becoming real pros at dressing up for class :) each week we ask our students to find something at home that will help them create characters for a particular play, scene or mime to music for that week.

The response to dress up days this term has been outstanding and the students are really think out the box when it comes to creating their costumes. "We are trying to encourage our students to create costumes from what they have, rather than from what they can buy".

This element of dressing up on a weekly basis is just one of the things that makes the Academy so unique and fun!

For a free trial lesson contact Kerry on Kerry@helenogrady.co.za.