All the school’s a stage
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All the school’s a stage

From scriptwriting, to lighting, to stage design, costume-making and acting, Charlotte Stafrace has embarked on an ambitious project to introduce schoolchildren to not just the world of theatre, but how to work as a team and to see a project through from start to finish.

Putting up a production at school most often entails learning lines and practising before the big performance day. But for a group of teenage San Andrea students their production next May is seeing them devise their own story and be involved in all the workings of putting up a theatre production.

The production, This Is Me, will be the result of drama sessions currently being offered by actress Charlotte Stafrace and her team. The sessions cover all aspects of putting up a production, from building a story, to writing a text, acting in it, and seeing it through the different states up to performance in a theatre, and have been running since last October.

Stafrace believes in the importance of drama as a subject and approached a school she knows, San Andrea, L-Imselliet, Mġarr. She wanted to explore the possibility of giving the small group of students already taking drama as part of their International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) a practical and full blown experience in the world of performance.

“Very often,” she says, “it is the parents who influence the choice of subjects and whether future opportunities can be linked.”

San Andrea students working on their production This Is Me.San Andrea students working on their production This Is Me.

In order to explore all the different aspects of theatre, Stafrace, the resident practitioner and coordinator of the project, has invited various practitioners to conduct workshops. For most of the students this is the first time they are learning about all the different stages of a play... from concept to rehearsal and performance.

“They have learnt about the stories that can be created which are then translated into a script, how to create different characters, how to make them move, think and feel,” says Stafrace.

This is a collective piece based on youth themes the students wanted to explore: bullying, peer pressure and body issues are some of them. Through this pro-ject they are learning how to work both individually through monologues in their script as well as be part of a team.

The students, aged 13 to 15, have been fortunate to have expert advice from some of the best people in theatre today. Tutors have included Sandra Mifsud (movement), Paul Portelli (script), David Micallef (backstage) and Chris Gatt (lights).

They are also learning about skills required for backstage and how to light a production. Together with their San Andrea drama teacher, Lesley Nixon, they have also included field trips to see how a production works in a theatre.

The students meet after school once a week, for an hour, but the project has allowed them to attend two sessions per week because the second lesson is funded by Kreattiv (a government fund available for creative school projects).

Speaking about the teenagers’ reactions, Stafrace says that “initially students were reticent and a little self-conscious in practical sessions, but gradually they have become much more adventurous and assertive in their opinions and input to the work in progress”.

They have a greater understanding of group dynamics and of how each discipline fits together to make a whole production.

“It is evident that each student has different strengths and areas for development, but the group are becoming even more mutually supportive and recognise for themselves how their skills can be best utilised by working together,” says Stafrace.

The project grows from week to week. Stafrace has seen a change in the students. From shy and reserved participants, they are now becoming more comfortable and open to all the demands the project entails. There is a growth in focus and enthusiasm. According to their drama teacher, these group of students are even putting their ‘break time’ into rehearsals and helping each other learn.

Learning drama has manifold benefits. Through this project, students are obtaining a new set of skills and obtaining an insight into how to become confident and expressive youths, what is required in order to become a speaker, play a character or indeed deliver a presentation in a confident voice.

“They could even learn how to channel their energies into their own future projects as well as the discipline required in order to deliver both as an individual or in a team,” says Stafrace.

They are being shown in a practical way about the different ways one can become involved in doing theatre and advised about the various employment opportunities in a cultural framework.

These workshops are being translated into a full production, This Is Me, which will be performed at the Salesian Theatre in Sliema in May.

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