Making the Drama Studio an emotionally safe space

Despite all our best intentions, the Drama Studio can be a terrifying place. Our students can feel scared of it. It is a place where they can be put in a position of risk. Risks which involve opening up about their own personal feelings to their colleagues and strangers. Risks which involve performing in front of others, exposing themselves to potential ridicule from their peers.

Of course this is not what we want as teachers, but this is how some will see the Drama Studio as. Our job has to be about making the Drama Studio an emotionally and physically safe space for everyone.

Here is just a start, five ways that I think we could all do to help the Drama Studio become a safer environment.

Performing is important, but not to the whole class

Acting requires students to take risks and overcome fears. The biggest fear of all to overcome is the fear of performing in front of other students, to take on and overcome the risk of looking like a fool. Especially for teenagers, that can be a big ask. So it’s important that you are able to find ways of overcome this – no one should be coerced into performing but yet it is also an important part of studying Drama. So perhaps finding ways that involve more peer to peer performances, everyone performing at the same time so you can observe everyone or arranging an audience that is more comfortable for the student at another time.

Have a way out

It is important that students know that they are safe in the Drama Studio and that they are involved in the establishment of boundaries. For example, students must be able to give consent for physical contact and we must allow that consent to change depending on who they are paired with. Students should know that they have the right to say no to something that they feel either emotionally or physically uncomfortable with. Make sure that students know that they have a route out of a task that is without judgement or condemnation.

Blind casting.

Traditionally, casting has been done based on the actors looks and gender. Is this still right? How much do we need to adhere to this idea? Should we be choosing the best person for the role rather than choosing a person based on their appearance and gender. We should be encouraging everyone is blind cast.

Your words last forever.

When I was at school, I was involved in a musical performance as part of the chorus. As with most chorus parts, there was a lot of dance and movement sequences with singing. During a dress rehearsal, the director came over to me and said “I think it would be better if you were to mime the singing”. Well over twenty years later, and those words still stick with me and I’m embarrassed to sing.

The thing is the words we use as teachers for feedback matter. What we say can have a tremendous impact on a student’s mental and social wellbeing. Not just in the moment, but for a lifetime. Be mindful of the choice of words we use in feedback and how we deliver feedback to be constructive, positive and helpful.

Difficult topics

In Drama we cover a range of topics, many of which are emotionally challenging and difficult. This certainly shouldn’t be avoided or dumbed down, but the topics we cover can be naturally upsetting to students. You might want to build into your schemes of work more time to explore the issue so that any personal connections are explored, declared or navigated around in safe environments.

Contact me

I’d be really interested to know what you do already, what you are thinking of trying and what problems you have faced. Please share in the comments box below or contact me directly with your thoughts and ideas.

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