The art of interaction
Thanks to the MADC’s newly-launched arts programme, a group of teenagers this summer has experienced theatre coaching. Jo Caruana chats with a few participants in anticipation of the second edition of the non-profit project, to be launched in September.
Anyone with a jot of experience in theatre will tell you just how wonderful the world of arts can be. From the buzz of rehearsals to the thrill of opening night, there really is no business like show business.
As Malta continues to catapult towards its status as Capital of Culture in 2018, more young people are being encouraged to give the arts a go. And that doesn’t just mean performing, but also lending skills to a production behind the scenes, whether that’s designing sets, making props or creating lighting plots.
With that in mind, the Malta Amateur Dramatics Club (MADC), which has been at the forefront of Malta’s artistic movement for over a century, decided to launch Interact, a programme whereby young ones can be introduced to various aspects of the arts.
“I joined the committee in November and soon realised that, while children were really enjoying our shows, we weren’t providing enough activities for them,” the club’s artistic director, Marco Calleja, says.
“Theatre is all about ‘doing’, whether on stage or behind the scenes, so we wanted to create a forum that reflected this.”
Rachel Galea, also on the committee, happened to be on the same wavelength. The two got rolling fast and set about creating a programme that completely breaks free from the everyday stresses so many children face, including arts exams.
Interact – which is being run on a completely non-profit basis – takes the shape of a vocational and hands-on programme that incorporates the performing arts as well as stage make-up, set design, costume design, set construction, props sourcing and light engineering.
“We’ve seen that some students are more inclined to work behind the scenes and that’s great,” continues Calleja.
“We wanted to give them the chance to try their hands at something different. Plus, all performers benefit from an awareness of what goes on backstage and around the perimeter of every production. With each other’s support, we wanted our students to develop a deeper understanding of how staging happens holistically.”
Through the programme, the club hopes to build on the work being carried out by many of the local performing arts schools. Targeting children between the ages of 11 and 14, the course also incorporates the history of theatre and the evolution of certain genres. Attendees are given the time to listen to professionals in each field, as well as to dive right in and put what they learn into practice.
“The MADC has been around for 102 years, so it has an amazing pool of talented members across all the theatrical fields,” Calleja continues. Many of these members are only too happy to pass their knowledge on to the students, and hope the children will, in turn, grow up to work directly with the veterans to develop skills and confidence of their own.
And, popping in for a quick visit, I was lucky enough to see first-hand just how well the students are responding to the new approach. Working in groups, and under the guidance of well-versed club members, the whole class gets involved and finds its niche.
One of the younger students is 11-year-old Julian Beacom, who has previously attended drama lessons and enjoyed them. “I love acting,” he says with a smile. “So I was eager to learn more about being on stage. When I heard we were going to cover Shakespeare, I was extra keen because I wanted to learn how to put acting and history together.
“So far, I really enjoyed watching MADC’s production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and I’ve learnt that, as a playwright, Shakespeare was brilliant at creating lots of twists and turns in the plot. Now I’m looking forward to the next class – props-making, although I think I would prefer to be on stage and not backstage in the future.”
Sharing her feelings is Leah Gatt, 15, who has been attending performance lessons since she was six. “I love drama, so I was excited to experience more aspects related to it,” she says.
“I knew we’d be learning all about Shakespeare, setting a stage, make-up and the appearance of the actor, and know how important each of those elements is to the finished production.
“I really enjoyed meeting with actress and director Polly March. We watched the dress rehearsal of The Winter’s Tale and it was exciting to see it all come together.
“Now I’m hoping to learn lots of other things, such as how to design a play set and put on make-up correctly for stage.
“It’s been really interesting so far, and I definitely think I will be able to use my new skills at school and in other parts of my life outside the theatre.”
With the first round a resounding success, the MADC is already looking towards the next set of sessions, which will be held weekly from September. A programme for older participants is also in the pipeline.
“We’ve now seen, up close, how well children respond to the challenge of different aspects of life in the theatre, and want to encourage them to flourish across the board,” adds Calleja.
“After all, we hope they will be the production teams of tomorrow, so that Malta’s artistic industry can continue to go from strength to strength, keeping the scene alive from generation to generation.”