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November 16th 2017

What's the Point of a School Production...?

As we begin the process of rehearsals and auditions for our next School Production, it's worth reflecting on the many benefits the such an undertaking brings.  Our latest edition of Insight featured the following article, written by Head of Music, Miss Clements.


What's the Point of a School Production...?

Private schools have a tradition of strong discipline, high standards and a healthy sense of competition. Many of these go hand in hand; the House system, sports teams, and issuing of colours, trophies and awards all promote healthy competition. High expectations and the refusal to sacrifice them create discipline. So, if private schools pride themselves on offering a “rounded education”, what purpose does the school production serve, and why, when state schools are having the Arts cut, do private schools continue to stand by their productions? 

Private schools promote a healthy and natural sense of ambition and excellence and just auditioning for the school production demonstrates this. The production can be more inclusive than sport; even if you can't or won't perform for the proud parents, there is always a role for you in costume or set design, or even the band. The chance to get on stage and perform one’s heart out to the delight of audiences is an incredible way for students to gain a stronger and more lasting sense of both self-confidence and self-esteem (Alburger, 2017). To hear the appreciation of an applauding audience, cheering peers and admiring parents all around them, is a wonderful affirmation of hard work and perseverance. Taking part in drama requires students to view things from different perspectives, inviting them to share control of a narrative between different players. These are abilities far beyond regular problem-solving or test-taking, and therefore, should be encouraged. An actor has the artistic license to bring new elements and characteristics to their role and to think creatively.  This is how they differentiate themselves from others and demonstrate their “style.” 

Translated into life and future, this is fundamentally the ability to make oneself stand out from their peers, something that is crucial in the ever-increasing competitive nature of the world of university applications. Acting and music enables young people to overcome gender stereotypes at a time rife with exploring sexuality. Young people gain the skills to become successful negotiators and communicators (Yassa, A Study of the Effect of Drama Education on Social Interaction in High School), again a vital life-skill that could not come at a better time than during hormonal teenage years. 

Just because one doesn’t become a famous actor or politician doesn’t mean that we won’t ever need the skill of public speaking. Let’s face it; is there anything more demoralising than the speaker who mumbles, can’t make eye-contact, doesn’t gesticulate or has no intonation? We perhaps don’t realize the important role such abilities can play in our lives, and how much we can advance these skills through drama performance. Years down the line, you might be delivering a proposal to your employer, contributing to a team project, or even giving a Best Man’s (or Woman’s!) speech at your friend’s wedding. There’s just no saying where these skills can take you. 

And music? While British state school funding continues to decrease from £82.5m in 2010-11 to £58m in 2014-15 (Burns, 2013), Harvard University continue to find overwhelming evidence of the positive impact of music education; according to their study singing decreases stress levels and increases the functionality of our immune system as well as our hearts – vital for today’s young people living with modern pressures (Chicago, 2014). The impact of music on the brain is something Harvard have studied closely: musicians learn and repeatedly practice the association of motor actions with specific sound and visual patterns (musical notation) while receiving continuous multisensory feedback. This association learning can strengthen connections between auditory and motor regions while activating multimodal integration regions in the brain. They argue that training of this neural network may produce cross-modal effects on other behavioural or cognitive operations that draw on this network (Chicago, 2014). For example, children who undergo musical training have better verbal memory, second language pronunciation accuracy, reading ability and executive functions. Learning to play an instrument as a child may even predict academic performance and IQ in young adulthood. We conclude that musical training uniquely engenders near and far transfer effects, preparing a foundation for a range of skills, and thus fostering cognitive development (Trost, 2013).

It is also proven that singing together brings us together socially and emotionally: A study of almost one thousand Finnish pupils who took part in extended music classes, found they reported higher satisfaction at school in almost every area, even those not related to the music classes themselves (Eerola, 2013). Explaining the results, lead researcher Päivi-Sisko Eerola, said “Singing in a choir and ensemble performance are popular activities at extended music classes. Other studies have established that people find it very satisfying to synchronize with one another. That increases group affiliation and may even make people like each other more than before.” 

Through the participation in something like a production that has long-term goals, students learn organisation, resilience and dedication. Through collaborating they learn how listen, how to ask the right questions, how to deal with stress and how to support and encourage each other. Through their own participation they learn concentration, enthusiasm and self-confidence.  Through participating in the success of an event greater than the sum of its parts they gain self-esteem and build invaluable relationships with the adults involved. Within the tight-knit school community and camaraderie prevalent in school productions, students form close relationships with their teachers who commonly act as role models (Maga, 2017). 

Yet some staff question the validity of juggling of homework and the tiredness student’s encounter in the process, particularly in the examination years. But surely, if there was a medicine that stated “For the provision of immense pride, feeling appreciated, feeling depended upon & happiness. Side effects may include tiredness” would we hesitate to offer it to young people? Perhaps we should remind them that it is proven and well established that drama promotes reading and literacy, vocabulary acquisition (Güngör, 2008), and that musical training results in better achievement in domains other than mere music performance, such as verbal abilities, second language learning, non-verbal reasoning and general intelligence (10 Magical Effects Music Has On the Mind, 2017).
Is it any wonder then that those who are involved in a wide range of activities are usually more successful? Indeed, all Cobham Hall’s Guardians in my time (7 years) have been keen advocates of school plays – Lillie, Tilly, Steph, Siun, Isla, Chloe, Issi and Katy were all participants in shows and various other music and drama opportunities. This involvement helps stimulate students in their studies, as noted in a study at Stanford University that found that students involved in the arts are more motivated to learn and are three times more likely to win a school attendance award (Maga, 2017). 

The evidence is out there and rather significant, and begs the question just what are British Politicians thinking when continuing to cut the Arts? Which, merrily and somewhat ironically, brings me to my last argument: Eton – the school which has produced 19 British Prime Ministers. Eton puts on up to twenty-five shows a year and hosts three performance spaces (Wilson, 2012). It’s no wonder then that since the 1980’s, Eton has produced 1 writer, 6 sportsmen, 6 notable other professionals (two of whom are magicians!), 6 musicians, and 14 famous actors! (Eton college List of Old Etonions, 2011). Among the list of successful thespians; Dominic West, Damian Lewis, Tom Hiddlestone and Eddie Redmayne. The latter of whom was described as being a “notable joiner-in: head chorister, house captain, great at tennis, a decent rugby player, and threw himself at everything”. (Neicho, 2015) It is also known, that like many private schools who have the time and space to really know their students, that Eton puts a premium on individualism: "You're encouraged to pursue any dream you might have” (Moss, 2010).

So, “here’s to the ones who dream! The painters and poets and plays” (Hurwitz, 2016). May the school production continue to thrive and produce a generation of “well-rounded” joiners-in… or perhaps even Prime Ministers!

Click here to view a list of works cited

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