Holly Sullivan looks at how drama teachers in Asia found ways to collaborate online during lockdown, setting up links which will continue even when campuses reopen.
Drama has been one of the subjects most severely impacted by moving to an online teaching space during the Covid19 pandemic. It would be easy for Drama teachers to simply throw up their hands and declare the performative aspect of the subject a write-off during this period. Likewise, this could also have been cause for a fearful, guarded approach to future development, with CPD and learning opportunities taking a back seat to the practicalities of simply making it through another day online. However, this has certainly not happened across the brilliant network of international schools that spans the entire Asian continent that make up the membership of the Federation of British International Schools in Asia (FOBISIA).
Some things just got better
In fact, whilst all Drama teachers will now be eager to get back to their studios and long to be back working directly with students, whisper it, some things may have changed for the better.
Firstly, the FOBISIA Drama Thursday CPD, a monthly peer-led sharing of expertise from Drama teachers across the continent, unearthed some superb problem-solving and innovation around how to make the practical aspects of Drama continued and even improved by being held online.
From looking at direct technical solutions such as Flipgrid and Google Workspace developments, which allowed teachers to capture, share and feedback on student performance work, to thoughtful conversations about how to help students make the most of performing monologues on screen whilst maintaining the feel, cadence and range of a live dramatic performance.
It’s all about the journey
Yet, as always with these things it is the journey and not the destination that produce the most useful, rewarding and lasting results. It was simply incredible to have such large numbers of our Drama community come together; 84 teachers from 52 schools in 12 different countries, bringing together a range of techniques, views and perspectives. Across the seven 90-minute online sessions we held there were 159 items of professional development, all without cost or cover implications.
Democratised professional learning
It is true that brilliant live events have occured in the past at FOBISIA festivals and workshops, but in so many ways, the online space has liberated and democratised this involvement. These changes can be very straightforward logistical ones. I run a three-person Drama department and am head of my school’s Creative Arts faculty, which meant that flying to another part of Asia for three days was often only possible for one member of the department. I am lucky to work at Alice Smith School, a really well-resourced international school in Kuala Lumpur, a city with excellent transport links. But this is not the case for many schools in the FOBISIA family and we have seen a rise in the partcipation of smaller schools who have been able to benefit and meaningfully contribute in a way that might have been near-impossible for them in the past.
New generation teachers
One of the brilliant teachers from a school now fully able to access this platform for the first time was Melfie Ngwenya, who teaches at a FOBISIA school in Thailand. Melfie’s excellent, practical and insightful presentation on the teaching of the performance techniques of Antonin Artaud, was a revelation. Also, at 28, Melfie is representative of the next generation of tech-savvy Drama teachers. Here again the move to online events has brought about a positive change and it was a joy to work with so many more younger practitioners than was previously possible.
So, as we slowly return to our classrooms, immediately for some, a little slower for others, I believe we can go back to the world knowing that the network and community of Drama teachers who work under the FOBISIA banner is bigger, more diverse and more engaged than ever before. But what next? Will things simply go back to the way they were? The simple answer to that is ‘no’. 100% of all participants in the FOBISIA online forums and events wanted to maintain these online structures. Indeed, we are looking to expand into other areas, such as our forthcoming FOBISIA Drama eConference, hosted by The British School Manila in association with Red Leap Theatre. It is likely that events like this will now permanently run alongside live events and may even end up permanently replacing aspects of them.
An exciting future for drama
Like with so many other parts of the economy, the shift to online provision has significantly changed the very nature of our jobs. One of the key things now needed is more support and training enabling more people to lead online sessions effectively and really make the most of the technology. We will seek to learn together to fully understand what approaches work best on these rapidly developing new platforms. As Chair of the FOBISIA Drama Committee, this is perhaps the area I am most excited about, presiding over a membership that is expanding, more engaged than ever and fully prepared for teaching our brilliant subject in the exciting but unpredictable years to come.
“The show, after all, must go on.”
Holly Sullivan is the FOBISIA Drama Committee Chair and Associate Vice Principal and Head of Creative & Expressive Arts at the Alice Smith School, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Images for this article published with kind permission from FOBISIA and the Alice Smith School.