TV vs Live Theatre
Last night, I watched the film version of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. It’s one of my favourite musicals and I’ve been lucky enough to see it three times live at the theatre, but I was struck by the fact that on film it was made so much more ‘real’. There were no barriers of quick costume or set changes, no problems with the balance of the Orchestra and voices and no imagination needed to create Paris in the late 19th Century.
However, there was my problem. No imagination needed. I was completely immersed in the scenes, but did that take away something? I started thinking about why we visit live theatre when everything is so accessible and cheap and available to everyone. I hugely enjoyed my film experience last night and it wasn’t the first time I’ve watched it either. The £10 or so I spent on that DVD a few years ago has certainly been worth it, so why do people spend upwards of £50 per person seeing the live version when you can just watch the film?
I’m afraid I’m playing devil’s advocate here. I personally do not think a film experience (including a visit to the cinema) can even come close to watching live theatre. So what are my reasons? Why should you, as a parent, spend a lot more money taking your child to the theatre when they could just watch the TV?
- It’s fun! Theatre is an experience! From visiting your local theatre through to heading to the West End, the whole thing is an event. You have to plan your timings, submit your ticket, perhaps even treat yourself to a bag of sweets for the performance. There’s ice cream at the interval and you get to view the performance from a no doubt beautiful theatre. It is a real adventure which television and cinema simply can’t replicate.
- Theatre educates your child! Most musicals or theatre performances give your child exposure to other cultures, historical events or traditions. Just think of the most popular musicals for children – The Lion King, Matilda, Mary Poppins – all of them educate us!
- It promotes creative thinking. One of the main differences between live theatre and film is that the audience member has to work hard at using their imagination. Many aspects are implied or symbolic simply because on a stage, you cannot give the level of detail you can give in a film. Neuroscientists long ago found that for the brain to work efficiently, both hemispheres need to be activated. It’s important to stimulate the left hand side of the brain (creative thinking, imagination, visual) in addition to the right hand side (verbal, logical and analytical) in all children.
- It fosters a love of the arts. There are countless articles written on the emotional and psychological benefits to children when they are encouraged in the arts. A piece of live theatre can give a momentary release from the strains of life and give a child a pathway into drama and music performance for themselves.
- It improves listening and communication skills. In a theatre, you can’t have a chat with your friend. You can’t just ask for the answer if there is a part you don’t immediately understand. You have to concentrate and have the patience that all will be revealed. You have to go on the journey with the rest of the audience at the set pace. In my days as a secondary teacher, we would regularly take teenagers to the theatre and we were often amazed that they had never been taught theatre etiquette. Theatre requires at least two hours of concentration which is an extremely important skill for our children to develop.
- Theatre is live! Yes –real human beings in front of you! When you see an amazing performance from a talented actor you get a real sense of just how impressive some of these performers are. It’s a sad fact that some reality shows have made it possible to be ‘famous’ without any real talent or dedication. On stage, you can see the effort these performers are putting in. Sometimes, things might go wrong in a show and more often than not, the performers do an incredibly sophisticated and impressive job of continuing. They don’t give up! Surely this is a lesson we want to teach all our children!
Live theatre doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve seen some amazing amateur musicals and plays in the Hertfordshire area. If you’re struggling to find performances you could take your children to, try these local amateur dramatic groups:
Hemel Hempstead Theatre Company
Berkhamsted Theatre Company
Harpenden Light Operatic Society
Kings Langley Players
Kings Langley Light Opera Company
Principal – Little Voices Hertfordshire West
5 Top Tips to Beat the Nerves!
Picture the scene. You’ve been preparing for months for a performance and finally the day is here. You have rehearsed the scene thousands of times in your mind and when you’re alone, you know you could rival the Leonardo Dicaprios of the world for the Oscar! However, the reality is not what you had rehearsed. Your palms are sweaty, your heart is pounding and every part of you wants to run away and get yourself out of the situation! Suddenly your mind isn’t on the task at hand – you’re starting to question how you look, why there is sudden phlegm in your throat and why you your voice is wavering. This is not at all what you planned!
We’ve all been there. Any performer will tell you that EVERYONE suffers from stage fright. But believe it or not, you can employ simple techniques to help turn those negative symptoms into things that actually help you! No really! Here’s how…
Adrenaline is your friend
At the time those feelings of your heart racing and butterflies in your stomach feel like such a handicap, but the simple truth is, if you learn to use them, they can be your best friend! All that’s happening in your body is adrenaline is spiking to help you deal with the situation at hand. So use it! Your body is helping you. Those notes WILL come out and you will remember your lines because your body is giving you extra energy to do it!
You may find your breathing will become quite prominent when you’re nervous. What you need to do is slow it down. Purposefully slowing your breathing down to a steady rate will not only lower your heart rate, but it will give you something else to think about instead of the nerves. Take a deep breath in for 4, hold for 4, and breathe out for 6. It will also warm up your breathing muscles. Win win!
Practice makes perfect
Have you heard the saying ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’? This couldn’t be more true! Knowing that you are ready to perform and being sure of your ability in rehearsal is half the battle of giving a good performance. Practice anywhere and everywhere. Practice in front of a small audience of trusted friends or family. The more times you prove to yourself that you can do it, the less nervous you become. Knowing in your heart that you know your lines and you can perform your song perfectly will give you the extra confidence you need.
Mind over matter
One of the best tips I was ever given for getting into the right mindset for performing was this handy little trick: a week or so before your performance, close your eyes and imagine yourself in the performance space. Really visualise how the room looks, where the audience are sitting, what it smells like, what you can hear etc… Now imagine you are cool, calm and collected and are giving the BEST performance you have ever given. Imagine the look on the audiences face, imagine the rapturous applause, imagine how brilliant you feel knowing you have done such a brilliant job. Now make everything louder, brighter and bigger. When you are feeling fabulous, touch together your thumb and 1st finger. Do this a number of times over the week always touching your thumb and 1st finger together when you have the feeling of doing a great job. Now, without closing your eyes, touch together your thumb and first finger – you should immediately return to that state of pride and happiness. If done correctly, you should find that whenever you touch your finger and thumb together, you immediately revert to that confident, proud and happy place. Just the feeling you need before you perform!
My final tip is probably the best one. Have you noticed how when you smile at people they can’t help but smile back? They say it takes 7 seconds to make a 1st impression. You DEFINITELY want your audience to think good things about you in that 7 seconds, so what better way than to send them a beaming smile! When you walk on stage, or into an examination room, walk with confidence and smile at your audience. Make eye contact if you can. They will immediately think you are confident and be on your side! They want you to do well as they have already decided they want to like you!
So go out there and knock ‘em dead! You know you can do it!
Principal Little Voices Hertfordshire West
Why are the Performing Arts so Important?
Your little one is a bundle of fun. Their imagination astounds you daily, their sheer energy and love for life is something that marvels you. Chances are your young child also loves to sing, dance and act. They surround themselves with make-believe play and for some, despite a real case of shyness around people they don’t know, with you they are a force to be reckoned with!
Seeing the world through a child’s eyes is something that should be practiced daily. Their innocence and their true belief that everything that happens is fantastically exciting is something that we as adults forget. The world is a marvellous place full of opportunity and exciting new adventures.
As your children grow and become young adults it is often the case that they lose their once shining innocence. Their imagination and creativity begins to decline and they often become far too self-conscious to play in their make believe world anymore. And this is absolutely normal! If we as adults wandered around in a make believe world, I’m pretty sure people would be asking some serious questions! However, the importance of creativity and confidence cannot be underestimated in the adult world. There are few jobs now that don’t require an initial interview where a person needs to be able to state their strengths in a positive, confident and assured way. Creativity is equally important – employers don’t want young people who can recite facts, they want individuals who have new, inspired ideas and can implement strategies for the better.
Sadly, our education system does not prepare students for the job world. In the Scottish Pupil Motivation Enquiry, Imaginate (a company tasked with increasing the involvement of children in performing arts) stated:
“The present education system is letting our children down, not only not preparing them individually to cope with the world and their place within it but stifling the vision, imagination and creativity of those children over the duration of their time within the formal education system.”
The English secondary school system is woefully similar. The introduction of the English Baccalaureate has made the situation worse. With no inclusion of the arts at any point, many secondary schools are simply unable to give their students the skills they need for the world of work due to being hindered by the need for them to study ‘Academic’ subjects. I myself saw this first hand when I worked as a Head of Music in various secondary schools. I had numerous conversations with parents who knew the importance of the arts and the skills they would give their child, but were simply unable to provide that opportunity due to the path they were being lead down.
So what are these magical skills that the Performing Arts can provide?
Performing Arts stimulates creativity. So much of acting and drama is led through improvisation – the ability to creatively ‘think on your feet’ using a given stimuli. The ability to pass a message over to an audience without simply stating facts and to do this is in an engaging and interesting way.
It helps children and teenagers to deal with emotions. Growing up is so very hard to do, especially in the teenage years. Your body is a world of hormones causing you to experience peaks and troughs on a daily basis. This can be extremely confusing and scary for our young people! The Performing Arts take these emotions and allow students to use them in a safe environment, thus negating some of the initial challenges.
Performing Arts challenges a young person’s preconceptions about the world in which they live. It helps them interrogate their world; see it as a 3D place. Our world is not a perfect place and our young people need to find a way to live in it with a full understanding.
Performing Arts develops their language and communication skills and introduces new ideas to them allowing them to express opinions about them. Perhaps this is the most important point. If you are unable to express yourself fully and to be understood, how will you ever become the person you want to be in life?
There are many many more reasons I could go into as to why studying the Performing Arts is essential to your child’s education and life journey (how about the amount of fun it is?!) but I would imagine you may stop reading! Unfortunately, many schools have their hands tied and are simply unable to prepare their students in the most effective way. We have to give our children the opportunity to develop their creativity! I will leave you with one of my favourite Philip Pullman quotes which sums up the importance of the Performing Arts for children:
‘Children need to go to the theatre as much as they need to run about in the fresh air. They need to hear real music played by real people on real instruments as much as they need food and drink. They need to read and listen to proper stories as much as they need to be loved and cared for. The difficulty with persuading grown-up people about this is that if you deprive children of shelter and kindness and food and drink and exercise, they die visibly; whereas if you deprive them of art and music and story and theatre, they perish on the inside, and it doesn’t show’
Helen Ames BA(hons), PGCE
Principal of Little Voices Hertfordshire West
Thank you for the Music
I have a belief. A passionate belief. A belief I have lived my entire life by and will continue to live by until my last days. MUSIC IS ESSENTIAL TO HUMAN LIFE.
I’ve taught music to youngsters for my entire adult life. Even in sixth form I ran a choir club and at University I was the Music President. I was then Head of Music in various secondary schools for 12 years. Whilst teaching, if I had a reluctant student I always played my trump card to win him round; “What kind of music do you listen to or like?” They ALWAYS had an answer. Granted, sometimes they needed a little nudge to reveal it, but I have still never met a human who doesn’t like some kind of music.
For most of my secondary school career, I walked into my classroom every day feeling immense gratitude that I was able to nurture a pupil’s love of music. I had been entrusted to help that love grow and help them safely experiment with their creative side and perhaps discover new things in this wonderful world of sound. I loved nothing more than playing a child a piece of music and watching their initial reactions; from the covering of ears upon hearing a 12 tone serialism piece, to the deep concentration upon hearing Flight of the Bumblebee. What a pleasure it was to be in the position of introducing these kids to new experiences for the first time!
Music creates an emotional reaction in everyone. Love or loathe a piece, it forces you to have an opinion. Music can change the way you think, feel, buy, react and make decisions. Music has always existed. Music will always exist. Music is for the young and old and every single human being can gain something from music.
As Plato said, “I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the key to learning”.
Principal: Little Voices Hertfordshire West
If At First
You Don’t Succeed…
I always loved to sing. My mum was (and still is) an avid member of the Church choir and an outstanding singer in her own right. From an early age I would sing solos at Christmas and try to be the loudest singer in the congregation! My first main role came at the end of Primary School where I was selected to be Joseph in ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’. I remember everything about that performance, from the costume to the stage directions, but my overwhelming memory is of feeling an amazing buzz from being in front of an audience. It was clear to me at 10 years old that my future lay in performance.
As I entered secondary school, I was already learning to play the cello and piano and continuing with singing wherever I could. I joined the choir and music was my absolute favourite lesson of the week. I was confident and loved singing with a passion.
Then disaster struck.
During Year 8, there was an opportunity to be in the choir for ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, performing with Philip Schofield every night! This was obviously fate! I’d already performed the lead role at my primary school and I was confident that entry to the choir would be a breeze. I attended my audition and sang my heart out. The school selected the best 30 singers from Years 7-9 and I eagerly awaited their decision. When the list went up, my heart sank. My name was there, but on the reserve list! I hadn’t made it! How could this be?
After what seemed like an eternity of tears and tantrums, I picked myself back up again and decided that someone would drop out and I would be offered their place. It didn’t happen and so I watched my friends and peers go off to rehearsals and performances and listened to their amazing stories of the professional world I so desperately wanted to join.
Although this was absolutely my first experience of failure and disappointment, to this day I am so glad I experienced it. This business is fickle and hard hearted at times, and as a performer you have to develop a thick skin. This wasn’t the last time I would experience disappointment in this world, but in going through something like that at 12 years old, I know that firstly, you get over it and secondly it makes you more resilient and stronger than ever before. You have to learn to pick yourself up and throw yourself back out there. I continued to work towards my hopes and dreams and joined everything I could that was Performing Arts related. At that same school a few years later, I played the lead role in Guys and Dolls and received the ‘Senior singer of the Year’ award, so I definitely got back on my A game!
Confident children need to be nurtured and sometimes a negative result in something can actually help them grow. They need lots of love and encouragement and constant reminders that if at first you don’t succeed, try try again! If I had given up at that first hurdle, I’d never have got to where I am now.
Helen Ames BA(Hons) PGCE
Principal – Little Voices Hertfordshire West