Confidence In Student Theatre
This past week I was reminded just how important a factor confidence is when Drama/Theatre students are developing theatre performances.
In my own example, Year 12 Drama students are preparing final examinations, particularly their 7-minute solo performance character examination to be performed before external assessors.
So many new factors come into play when, for the first time, the students’ assessor is not their classroom teacher. Unknown factors abound, including how the assessors will interpret certain assessment criteria or whether they will spot symbol in a performance, and many more subtle particulars.
Along with this process often comes a lack of student confidence in their own ability. Students who were beaming with confidence earlier in the year, all of a sudden hit rock bottom at the pointy end of the year when it really matters.
In the past week I’ve been a Drama teacher, a disciplinarian, a first aid worker, an actor, a parent, a friend and a mentor in senior Drama class. Such is the nature of teaching in general these days, and specifically that of teaching a subject that requires the performer to be in the right head space in order to excel. You can get away with sitting a Maths exam on a bad day if you know your material, but try doing that with a performance exam in Drama!
It is times like this that remind me, as Drama/Theatre teachers, we must know our senior students well, so we can spot moments of crisis along the way (and preferably before they arrive). When a crisis hits a senior Drama class at a crucial time of the year, it creates a sense of panic inside both the teacher and student. It’s up to us as teachers not to let our students see our own panic, but keep telling them the truth – that we believe in them and their own ability – and that not only will they will get there on the day, but that they will be rewarded for all their efforts along the way. Belief is a powerful thing in theatre, and when dealing with teenagers in particular, should never be underestimated.
How fragile our students can be at the most crucial moments. I learned just how unsure they can be despite their “show” when I cast a senior male to play the lead role in “Footloose.” I knew he could sing, his vocal coach knew he could sing. Everybody had witnessed rehearsals that were amazing. Come show time,his lack of confidence had nothing to do with his voice; even though during rehearsals he shied away from giving us his all. His personal struggle was based on social issues that he had shared with no one. I am backstage moments before opening curtain helping a young man who is in tears and unable to express his real fear. My words to him were “there is no way on this earth that I would ever put you in front of an audience if I didn’t believe you were ready. I would never, ever deliberately put you in a situation that could cause you embarrassment, shame, or humiliation. I care too much for you to ever do that to you. Trust me.
My new year’s resolution is to share with my student actors that anybody sitting in that audience who disapproves of what you are doing or wants to ridicule you for your choice doesn’t have the heart or the courage to stand on this stage and do what you are doing. They cannot hurt you. They can only secretly admire you. You should recognize in “ridicule” is jealousy. Go for it! Enjoy the show. Don’t become a victim of ridicule, become a victor of self-realization.
I must say I would tend to agree with that. Although I’m “coaching” a middle school Drama club, as my daughter’s school dose not have Drama as a class, I can agree that a student’s confidence will take them miles in the right direction. Last year we took first place in our competition, that brought on the pressure to repeat. A good majority of my students were promoted to High School and heavily recruited by the Theatre programs at the local high schools. This leaves me with a shell of what I had last year, however they can and will surpass last years group, based on desire and confidence. They are willing to embrace what I have to show them. I also have accepted a part in a play and they are excited to see me perform.