Gliding over the County Durham hills on the 20A bus on my first day of the West Rainton Primary School Drama Club Outreach Project, I felt some amount of trepidation. Having little experience with primary school children, I feared the worst, I feared chaos. And there was chaos.
But not chaos in the negative sense. Creative chaos, with hundreds of ideas buzzing round the room colliding with others to form new even crazier ones. Chaotic energy where everything is exciting, from simple stretches to choreographed dance routines, to just the word ‘Splat!’. I soon realised the challenge of drama at a primary school level is focussing this energy and creativity so that, almost without the students realising, fantastic art is produced.
I got involved with this community outrach project through my involvement with Durham Student Theatre (DST), taking theatre and drama workshops into local schools. The performances that as a group and club we have created have been extraordinary. The concepts that have been invented by the pupils are inspired, and the perhaps most surprising part is how little contribution in the form of ideas I have had to provide. I feel my role is more of that of an enabler, utilising my knowledge and experience in performance arts to assist the pupils in making their inspiration a reality on stage.
Helping children develop new skills
We have worked on a range of dramatic practices, from self-devising a Halloween themed scene to reading (and singing!) through the ‘Mary Poppins’ script. Throughout each of these, specific skills have been developed, such as the use of silence during the Halloween scenes to add tension and the art of projection during the script reading. These are not taught as in a classroom, but are woven into the fabric of the workshop and it is fascinating to observe the subtle ways a simple drama exercise can develop essential skills, not just for drama but for many aspects of life.
Also, the staff at the school have been incredibly supportive and welcoming, even though I only attend the school for an hour a week, I already feel integrated in the school community.
A break from student life
The final thing to say about this Outreach project is how fantastic it is to get out and about in Durham. Though it is only a 20 minute bus journey away, seeing the bustling Market Square give way to rolling hills is truly calming. The student ‘Durham Bubble’ can become a bit claustrophobic and feels like it permeates itself into every living moment of life. Although the intensity can be positive, it is nice to get away from it sometimes. I can honestly say that due to this project, between the hours of 3pm and 4pm on a Thursday, I do not think about student life at all, and that makes a welcome change.