At the end of last term, Farlington’s Lower School put on an outstanding production of the play, ‘Dandelion Time’, a time-travelling adventure in which Father Time is kidnapped and three modern-day children find themselves dressed in Edwardian costume and on a quest to rescue him.
Girls from Years 7 to 9 gave three performances to packed houses of parents, friends and staff in the School’s dedicated Studio. The performers were ably supported by those working backstage on sound and lighting.
Drama is a strong and valued part of life at Farlington. Under the direction of Mark Slawinski, Head of Drama, the girls are offered a wide range of opportunities to develop in this area. For instance, there are two Senior School productions a year: a play for Years 7 to 9 and a musical for the Upper School. The subject is regarded not only as a curriculum topic, but also as a way of contributing to the girls’ broader education and nurturing their personal growth.
Mark Slawinski aims to promote a love of drama, theatre and the creative arts. Studying the subject encourages artistic expression and paves the way for excellence in dramatic performance. This is evident in the consistently high quality shows he produces, which balance entertainment and challenge.
Underlying a finished, well performed play, the process of putting on a production compels everyone to work together as a team - a drama performance is a truly collaborative process. As Lucy Hourihan in Year 9 says, “The ‘Dandelion Time’ production was an excellent way to get to know girls from other years.”
It also teaches the girls self-control and discipline, encourages communication and develops confidence, both on and off stage. Alberta Dale, another key performer in ‘Dandelion Time’, says, “Mr Slawinski helped me build my confidence in terms of movement on stage and taught me not to be afraid of making bigger gestures and to move away from being naturalistic.”
Students’ perceptions about their world and themselves are challenged and can provide an outlet for emotions, thoughts and dreams which they might not otherwise have means to express. All of this occurs in a safe atmosphere where actions and consequences can be examined and discussed.
By studying different texts thy can also develop tolerance and empathy for different characters and learn to understand how a variety of personalities can interact. This is in addition to developing the practical aspects of communication – being persuasive and speaking in public.
Mark says, “The key to engaging the girls is to ensure every lesson is fun and inclusive and that the work that is delivered is interesting, accessible and exciting. Plays are picked very carefully to ensure they offer creative opportunities to a large number of people.
“The overall aim is for every student to enjoy their time learning about stagecraft, plays and styles and for them to feel valued whilst acquiring valuable skills.
“Drama can also benefit the less confident in many ways, not just through the assumed mask of role play but also by giving pupils a free working environment with the safety net of creativity. Anything is possible; nothing is necessarily ‘wrong’.
“It also provides many technical roles to which shyer students respond well and girls have thrived at the School doing the lighting and sound for shows. At Farlington, we often see that many initially shy students become exuberant performers and this is because of the supportive, friendly atmosphere of fun within lessons and during show rehearsals.”
Within the curriculum Farlington offers Key Stage Drama, GCSE Drama and A Level Drama, as well as the opportunity to take LAMDA examinations which provide the opportunity to gain valuable UCAS points as ‘QCA – Accredited’ LAMDA higher-level qualifications are included in the UCAS tariff. Speech and Drama is hugely popular, not just for the points, but for the enjoyment the girls in the Senior and Prep School take from it.
In all, 138 girls are taking these classes. Lizzie Booth, Speech and Drama teacher, comments: “Speech and Drama nurtures spontaneity, imagination, trust, teamwork, and self-confidence. Most importantly it is so valuable for learning presentation skills. It is not just about acting, although the girls absolutely love acting and appreciate the release it gives them.
“It takes courage for a Year 2 girl to bound into a room, perform her poem and then engage in a conversation with someone she has never met before about what she has just done, and yet time and time again the girls excel. This results in essential life skills being taught when girls are fearless, before inhibitions set in.”
This all starts in the Prep School. As Lucy Cooper, Speech and Drama teacher, says, “Drama in the Prep School culminates in the annual Prep Production in March. This is always eagerly anticipated as every girl in Prep 6 has a speaking part, supported by Prep 5 as the Chorus.
“The emphasis is strongly on how important it is to work together as a group and for all the girls to be an ensemble, rather than creating a star-vehicle for one or two characters. Rehearsals then start in earnest with the girls researching the background to the period and the play, learning stagecraft, backstage behaviour, voice projection and many other valuable lessons along the way.
“Time and again, girls that are quieter in their school daily life surprise and delight their parents, friends and members of staff with their performances and the confidence they have gained as a result of sharing in this process.”
The benefit that Drama brings to individual girls and the School as a whole is not something that can be easily measured or quantified. Yes, there are excellent examination results and some girls study Drama after leaving Farlington, but it also brings the School together across different year groups and academic abilities. Most importantly, the confidence the girls develop while working on a production lasts far beyond the run of a particular performance and beyond their time at Farlington.
Report and pictures contributed by Farlington School.