Treading the boards with young people

reading time: 4m 9s

Kerri Boyle is a Graduate Support Assistant at Studley High School. She starts her teacher training in September 2019 and shared with us, an overview of her life as a choreographer working with 5-16 year old students, in musical theatre:

Before I worked at Studley High School I was already involved in working with children in the Performing Arts. In my spare time I choreograph for Lollipop Youth Theatre, a youth musical theatre group in Worcester. Lollipop is a youth musical theatre society with a difference; we do not audition children to be in the company and accept children of all abilities. We have a range of children with special needs such as tourettes, ASD, Aspergers and others.

I work with children between the ages of 5-16 which can provide many challenges in itself. I have worked with Lollipop for over a year now and am currently working on my third show with them.

A standard rehearsal tends to go like this:

  • Get the children to be quiet, take a register, explain what we’re doing, get them warmed up physically and vocally.
  • If it’s a dance rehearsal, I will get them to recap what we’ve already done.
  • We will then walk through the dance and carry on learning a new section, break times, rehearse and repeat, record, go home.

This, however, doesn’t include all the extra work I will have to put in before we even get to rehearsal. I need to turn up with a dance already choreographed, set places for the children to stand in and a method of getting into and out of the dance. I need to acquire the music from our MD (which can sometimes be a challenge in itself!)

 

I’m not going to pretend that it’s all sunshine and roses because it is hard work. We have over 50 children in our company so we are presented with many different challenges during each rehearsal. Getting the children to be quiet to begin with, can be a challenge in itself as there are so many of them and they have so much energy but equally it is one of the things I love about teaching in such an informal setting. They make me laugh so much, each rehearsal with the bloopers and the things they can do or say. I’ve had to ban ‘flossing’, ‘dabbing’ and other dances from well known video games! I have to break down the dances during rehearsal and even have to change or re-choreograph something on the spot if the children can’t pick it up or it is too fast for them.

The real challenge comes with finding a balance in the choreography so that everyone can take part. I need to create dances that are not too fast or too difficult for our younger members and are not too slow or boring for our older more capable dancers. We have to deal with pastoral and safeguarding issues week in week out too, not to mention our children’s many needs.

 

Our current show, ‘Wizard of Oz’ in particular, has been a real challenge because on top of all of the things I have to do as a choreographer, not to mention the things I do as a production team member too, I have had to learn new styles of dance as the licensing requires the ‘Jitterbug’ dance to have styles of Jazz, Charleston, Jive, Jitterbug and others in it’s choreography!

 

There are times when I wonder why I do it, when I have to get out of bed at 7:30am on a Saturday morning after a full week of work or when I’m spending everyday after work in a theatre for technical rehearsals and dress rehearsals.

But, these children genuinely bring a light to my life. When you see that lightbulb moment, when they finally have cracked a dance. When you see what some of them go through on a daily basis; the challenges they have to overcome and how they change when they are on stage. When you see the unbreakable bonds they have made with other children. When you see a 16 year old comforting a scared 5 year old or showing them where they need to be – that’s why I give up my time, my patience and my sanity because at the end of the day, these are the children who will become our future actors, singers, dancers, technicians, teachers, lecturers. They are the reason I am now pursuing a career as a teacher of Drama because I want to be the one who encourages that enthusiasm, I want to be the one who tells them “you can 100% do this”, I want to be the one who believes in them and helps them succeed.

Drama is so much more than being able to perform, than having a talent for acting. It’s about teamwork, creativity, resilience, spontaneity, flexibility, passion, enthusiasm, commitment, dedication and so much more. These are the skills that inform our characters. They teach our children “it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to get up and try again”.