My Drama Diary from P1 to S6 by Katie Fegan, age 17
I have just finished a very long yet overall enjoyable 13 years in education, and over this time I have experienced a wide range of theatre and have been given several different forms of training. To honour the start of Kirsten’s wonderful new company, The Drama Box, I thought I would share my experiences of drama- taught both during and outside of education.
My first role that I was ever cast was actually before I entered primary school. In my last year at nursery I was cast as Mary in the nativity play, aged 3. I was told I had gotten this role because I had the best singing voice- basically I had the loudest singing voice! This is when I started to really enjoy my singing. We were given some very basic stage direction to make the play come to life. Most of this was me just sitting on the floor with a toy baby- at one point during the performance I was holding it by the legs and shaking the poor baby Jesus!- and singing my little heart out. I had muslin on my head and a sheet for a dress, but I felt like a superstar!
When I entered primary school things were pretty much the same. For the most part, the only acting and drama we ever really did were our nativity plays. I used to love when Christmas time came around so we could perform in the local church. The church was so beautiful and big, and I just felt warm and comfortable within its grandeur.If my memory serves me right I have played 3 narrators, an angel and a singing shepherd- I never again got to shake the daylights out of baby Jesus. However, there were those few lovely occasions where we did get to do a bit of drama. In Primary 4 we did a class exercise in which we had to walk around the room portraying different items or emotions, and yes, one of these was a tree. Why is it always the tree?! Are all actors required to have previous experience in portraying forestry just in case? Anyway, that was quite fun, but as you can expect solely acting like a tree will not get you too far in a career in the arts-well, it might but to be safe it would be wise to have a broader repertoire. I also have a very clear memory of a time in Primary 5 where we got to play different characters from The Wizard of Oz as part of a lesson, no idea why, but not much else springs to mind.
When I moved schools briefly in Primary 7 I got to take part in the school’s production of The Snow Queen at Christmas time, and was cast in what still remains to be my most fun role to date- ‘Ma Crow’. I was part of the comic relief trio of crows, and was given total creative freedom as to how I wanted to interpret the script, which I hadn’t really had before. I had such a blast performing in that show! I knew then that serious acting was never really going to be my thing. I still to this day prefer to make an audience laugh!
When I went back to my old school a drama company came in to help us perform a kind of musical about a fiasco at an airport between a Scottish and a French group- I was in the French group. Although this sounds exciting, I have one problem with this. We were told exactly what to do. We were told how to move, how to talk, how to act when we weren’t singing, and I hated this! No one offered any of their own ideas, so we were kind of robotic in our performance. It was a great idea, but our school were so concerned with impressing spectators that they didn’t want anyone stepping out of line and ‘ruining’ the performance.
To basically sum up my dramatic education in primary school, well…there wasn’t much of it! All focus on drama was at Christmas time when the kids were expected to shove beards and wings on and perform for 10 minutes. Apart from that I wouldn’t really say that my love of acting came from primary education, in fact I wouldn’t say that at all! Sure, we had plenty of art classes and we got a lot of singing lessons, but drama was always something that was missing from our curriculum. I was craving what I got outside of school- the chance to show off my crazy ideas and turn them into something amazing. I was hoping this would change when I went onto high school…and I guess it did.
When I first arrived we didn’t have a drama department, so I just got my creative fulfilment from music. I loved my music department so much! It was where I could be loud and imaginative– where I could sing to my heart’s content and could compose whatever came into my head. It was also therapeutic to be able to play around on all the instruments. I recommend having a bash at the drum kit if you’re having a rough day! But, I did want more. Drama was already a huge part of my life back then, and I didn’t want to limit this to outside of school. Then, me and my best friend, Meg, decided to sign up to be in the school’s annual Shakespeare performance at the beginning of S4. The play that year was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which- shamefully- neither of us had really heard of. Never the less we still auditioned for main parts- I auditioned for the part of Hermia and she auditioned for the part of Titania. We never got these parts, they were given to 6th years, but in hindsight I’m so glad we didn’t! Instead we were cast as 2 workmen, Snout (me) and Snug (Meg), and we had such a laugh! Our fellow work men were a joy to work with and I would still consider them good friends of mine. Also our creative director, Shiona Liddel, youth worker at Inspire Christian Youth Trust, gave us total freedom in how we wanted to play our roles. We made the parts our own and had the audience in stiches! I must say I played the part of a wall splendidly…if only I had some fellow actors showcasing their foliage skills around about me, eh? My grandma even remarked after seeing the show ‘I had no idea you could act so well and be so funny!’ I wish I had kept this up, but the pressure of exams got too much so I couldn’t do the Shakespeare performances again during my time at high school. At that point I felt that exam results were more important than anything, but now I value experience more than anything. I really regret giving this up, as it was one of the highlights of my time at high school.
Then, the school got a drama department when I was in 5th year. I was so excited! But, I had already chosen my Highers by this point so I didn’t take it up. I spent a whole year waiting until I got my new columns so I could take higher drama…and then I didn’t take it in 6th year. I still wanted to study microbiology at university at this point because I was too stubborn to change my ways after 10 years of wanting the same thing,and Advanced Higher Biology and Higher Drama were in the same column. I was utterly heartbroken! I still regret not taking Drama Higher as I could’ve learnt so much from it,and I also missed out on taking Advanced Higher Music as I thought it would be too much of a distractionfrom my scientific academia. This means my 6th year was pretty miserable, and when I changed my mind about what I wanted to do with my life in March I knew I had thrown away a great opportunity. My change of heart actually started developing a year ago, but I was so scared I wasn’t good enough to get into the arts. Now, these fears have gone, so I want to go for it!
My high school offered me so many creative opportunities– the fact I got so little out of them was my own fault. I didn’t think I was good enough to join singing groups since I believed, and still kind of do, that my voice was below average, and even dropped out of the 6th year pantomime because I felt so excluded from my year group. I have never really connected with my year group from day 1 and was very badly bullied in the past, so I always kept my distance from people that I wasn’t friends with. I would sit on my own in the corner or behind people in rehearsals, and when I had to sing I would do it in a whisper. I find it impossible to work with people I don’t feel comfortable around. Maybe I was dwelling on the past too much. I know this may not be the same for everyone, but from my experience high school had much more to offer me in terms of dramatic tuition than primary school did.
I have also had a lot of tuition outside of education, both good and bad. Let’s start with the good. The first group I ever joined was a council run group, which for most of my time there was led by Kirsten. I was there for around 4 years, and I met some of my closest and longest friends there. We used to perform showcases every year in the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, which I loved! We got a theme and then we and the surrounding groups would devise something of our own choosing based on that theme. Performing on stage to an audience of parents at that age felt like performing at Wembley Arena! We also got to showcase one of these performances at the Queen Margaret University, which made everyone so giddy! I cannot for the life of me remember what our group’s performance was about, though I played a geeky girl, because I was so distracted by the morning (we were in the afternoon) group’s show, in which my dear friend Calum played a creepy time traveller.My time at that group was amazing! The group came up with so many amazing and wacky ideas and we were just let loose! We were only given brief instructions, or sometimes just an introductory line, and the rest was ours to play with. This once led to the development of The S Factor, a show about finding the next Santa Claus! I believe this all started just because we were told to make up scenes about what goes on in Santa’s workshop…and by the end of it we had time trials and the calming down of bratty kids. We thought this was hilarious and total genius! It gave me such a thrill to perform on stage, and I still get the same thrill now.
Roughly at the same time I also joined the local musical theatre group. I have performed on and off with this group for a number of years, and have had some really great times there. The first show I was ever in was Oliver, where I was part of the workhouse boys and Fagan’s gang. This is when I got, what I considered to be, a big break. I got to sing solo lines during the opening number, Food, Glorious Food! This really boosted my confidence and I sang those sentences with all my gusto. Having the microphone attached to me before the show started made me so nervous, but I loved knowing that my voice would be recognised. Another part of this group I, surprisingly, loved was the dancing. We always had top notch choreographers and, even though the only dancing I can well is the running man, I had fun giving it a right good go. I reckon my dancing in such songs as You Can’t Stop the Beat and School’s Out wasn’t too bad, but if it was at least I put a lot of energy into it. I auditioned for a fair amount of solo songs, but was always the understudy. Still, I really loved performing with that group, even if some of our costumes were a sight to behold!
Of course, Love Drama is definitely the best group I ever joined- that sounds like I’m being paid to say this but it is actually true. I have done so much with this group it is unreal! I would never have thought that age 13 I would be doing clowning training, age 15 I would be in a pantomime, age 16 I would be recording a song, and CERTAINLY wouldn’t have thought that at age 17 I would be a teaching assistant and have a regular spot on this blog! I have met so many amazing people through this company- both pupils and teachers- and have been given brilliant guidance and training in the past 6 years I’ve been going. If I had to pick a moment where I particularly thrived in this group I think it would be the pantomime. It was something different, and I forgot about any embarrassment I had and just went with it and had so much fun! I would love to do something like that again. Going from pupil to teacher has been a very strange transition, but it is one that I am really enjoying. It is a great feeling being able to give others inspiration and to pass on your knowledge. It makes me feel really useful.
Unfortunately, not all my drama experience has been this great. I re-joined the council group aged 13 because most of my friends and my boyfriend at the time were heavily involved, and I felt like I was missing out. At the start things were fine, but then things changed. Before Kirsten made the absolutely fair decision to leave we had started working on improvisation, which at that point, I’m sorry to say, I despised! I was so useless at it and I felt like a moron every time I said anything because no one would laugh. I felt like everyone took to it so quickly apart from me. We tried to work on what we had already been taught with other teachers, but I very quickly gave up. Everyone was too wrapped up in the fact that Kirsten had left to actually be productive, and when I tried my heart just wasn’t in it. I didn’t connect well with a lot of the people in the group and so found it hard to work with them, and I started to associate improvisation with being a total chore. The final straw was when I was taken outside the group for acting up, but this turned from a telling off into a personal attack. The teacher started to insult the way I dressed, the way I spoke and accused me of only being in the group so I could spy on my then boyfriend because I was ‘talentless and pathetic’. Well, in response for that I gave her a piece of my mind (typing what I said would involve a lot of *&%^! symbols) and then went off to cry in the bathroom for 20 minutes. I then left the group because I took what she said to heart, and really did believe I was talentless. I think this ‘teacher’ had very little experience actually working with children, but had academic qualifications pouring out her ears. A good teacher can’t just have experience on paper; they need to be able to have had actual experience working with kids to fully understand how to behave in that situation. Me, I have zero qualifications, and I am learning through trial and error. The main lesson I have learned so far is to let the children put forward their ideas; don’t tell them what to do. What I would take from that experience is that if someone is pushing your buttons try and keep calm and try not to have a total meltdown! There have been times already that I’ve had a bad day before a class and I’m getting slightly wound up, but I just remember it’s not the kids’ fault so there is no point taking it out on them.
I also had a bad experience the last time I was at the musical theatre group. We had a new directing team who I did not get on with at all! One of them was certainly the eccentric type, whilst the other one hardly said anything. I was unable to make the session dedicated to solo auditions because I had to work, so asked if I could do mine another day, which they approved. I turned up to do my audition and they said the parts had all been cast and I ‘should think about maybe showing some dedication if you actually had wanted a part’. I was livid! If I had just missed the date on purpose that would’ve been another matter, but they had originally said I could’ve auditioned then changed their minds without telling me! I let it slide as I knew I wouldn’t win the argument, but then in any song I was in we made barely any progress what so ever! A month before the show there was no talk of costumes or stage direction and it was really stressing me out. I think I was so worried because I really wanted to pull off something faultless, and since we weren’t being led properly this vision of glistening reviews was slowly slipping away. I knew the performances would be bloody awful, if we even made it to the stage. For that reason, once again, I quit. I believe the reason we were so poorly led is the same as the last time; they had never done this sort of work before. They had plenty of qualifications, but none of these had been applied before. Also, I think they underestimated the work load they had to do. They were used to being on the stage, not behind the scenes.
The common theme throughout this blog seems to be when I was given creative freedom I thrived, but when constricted I learnt very little. I feel that drama is more than just acting- it is also about freedom of expression. By this I mean being given loose or virtually no guidelines and being allowed to put forward your own ideas and let something take shape and come to life. If I hadn’t been exposed to good quality drama I would have a lot of trouble talking to people as I used to be very shy. I was always brimming with ideas but never got a chance to share them, and drama unlocked all my creative thoughts from my brain and this in turn also more open in talking to people. I also would’ve been going off to uni this year to do a science degree that I would’ve hated, as I have realised the difference between doing something because you think it is a good idea and doing something because you want to- because it is your passion. Drama has really boosted my confidence and has made me want to make people happy, because nothing made me feel better than making an audience light up with laughter, and I love creating that feeling whenever I can. I think it has helped prepare me for my gap year this year, as I am now thriving in interviews rather than shying away. If I had just been exposed to my worse experiences of drama I would have zero self-confidence, and I reckon I wouldn’t have some of the amazing friends I have and I would’ve had an unfulfilling adolescence. I know that sounds melodramatic, but I really think that would’ve been the case.
Of course, my attitude towards improvisation completely changed too. When I first started it I felt inadequate, and I think that was because I was in a room with a lot of people who took to it very naturally. When I joined the Love Drama weekly classes and heard we were doing impov I groaned, thinking ‘Not this again, I’ve done this and I suck at it can’t we leave it?’ However, I had not had consistent tuition in the past, and soon found that as the weeks went on I got better at it. I was slowly building up my confidence, and taking inspiration from both the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway?, and also from my class mates’ feedback. I had always thought of improvisation only coming naturally to those with a very high intellect and, sorry to say, a high level of narcissism, but this is not at all true. It does take confidence to get up on stage with nothing and come up with a performance, but as long as you’re creative and up for the challenge it will soon feel like second nature. I am currently reading an excellent book on how to use improvisation in the workplace, and I am dying to feature it on my own personal blog as it is truly inspiring and I am finding myself nodding along whilst I read. Yes, it’s safe to say I’m converted. Improvisation is an excellent skill to have.
To wrap all this up I would say that drama has been such an important part of my life, but this love has come more from clubs rather than academia. I think children should have more exposure to drama at a young age, since it can really boost a child’s self-esteem and help them realise their creative potential. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my 3 year old brother wants me to play Bug-Allo with him again…
Katie Fegan, 17.