Well, considering the diverse range of opinions and styles we have encountered in over a decade of touring, it seems there is no one answer. If I could sum up the best of the education community’s efforts, and be so bold as to say that it probably should be something like – to create choices.
Choices are created by helping a student to increase awareness – obviously specific awarenesses about our world, mathematics, sciences, etc – but we can’t just stop there, as this will only give a partial understanding of the world and therefore limit choices. We then extend the education to the physical, to the metaphysical, to the intangible – like sport, music and art, and in some cases, religious studies. Even then we are left with an incomplete pacakge.
So what next? There must be something that wraps everything up and provides experiential and subconscious changes in students. That moves them to a consciousness that enables higher level choices. In no way am I suggesting that Alpha Shows do this completely, but I do know this is our outcome, and as but a small part of your entire annual package of ‘teachings’ it is time and money well spent.
And the great thing is, you also get to tick off a few of those boxes! Music, art, movement, dance, appreciation of the arts, theatre with audience participation, bullying, role models, values, social development, creative studies, fairytales unit, classic myths (like Hercules and King Arthur), story writing, school musical tie-in…just to name a few.
Dare I say it but there have been schools we’ve talked to over the years that blatantly tell us that our shows do not fit in to their curriculum. This puzzles me – is your curriculum different to other schools? Equally puzzling is when a school has us once but then tells me we ‘won’t fit into the curriculum’ in the following year! The thought behind this is not deep enough, it’s thinking that Alpha’s shows only cover very specific focusses that may only apply in a single year and be very different in the following year. I understand that each school has a different focus, as a general philosophy of the school and for each year.
But what I always say is that Alpha’s outcome is to bring events that have positive ramifications and effects that go deeper than just a particular subject of focus for that year. The shows are designed to reach a child at their core, their soul – to move them to make better and more loving choices for themselves and how they treat others. They are also designed to help them release fears and anger and all the frustrations that children have to endure and often bottle up inside. This, along with letting them be expressive in laughter and fun and communication, leads to an experience that develops their soul. Whilst they are in this receptive state (what we call a ‘peak state’) they are open to receiving new ideas about how to be, without feeling like they are being lectured at or ‘told’ what to do. We have experience and a known track record of the positive effects our shows can have on students and the choices they make – choices that become more loving and actions that are more aligned with truth and integrity, respect and passion. This of course leads to children that are better students, better learners, happier people. This makes TEACHING them easier and more beneficial.
With the new National Curriculum, we also know that Arts and performance is definitely part of the curriculum. So given that Alpha’s shows present the most theatrical and highest quality theatre show that can come into your school, and that they also help students be better at learning by releasing negative emotions and being inspired to make better choices, the idea that Alpha won’t have a positive impact in ANY year regardless of the specific educational focus isn’t seeing the bigger picture of what the shows are about.
Often we get hired just for a fairytales unit, something I really try to note that we do not specialise in. Our shows are designed for whole school incursions that invigorate and challenge an entire school community.
How often does a student’s school life focus on experiencing great quality theatre, being inspired by storytelling, art, drama and comedy, as well as learning new strategies for their own wellbeing and social skills? How often? We certainly spend a lot of time on other elements of Australian life that is said to have a similar positive impact. Sport is a great example. It doesn’t provide any intellectual or academic benefit to a child, and yet, in some ways it does. It helps with teamwork and fitness of body and mind, all things that would positively effect the rest of a student’s work. And we focus so much of school life on sport. How much compared to things like an Alpha Show that even in one 90 minute event can possibly have as much of an impact provided a student fully participates (what we call ‘play full out’!).
What saddens me most is that all schools have a rich and comprehensive sports program WITHOUT QUESTION and WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Australia is a sporting nation so it seems to be valued by our society to educate our children into this sporting culture. I don’t refute that, the point I would make is that:
Sport does this. So does an Alpha Show…
Every child grows up with a thorough education in ‘sport’ and other areas. Does every child have a natural ability for sport? Does every child move into a career as a sportsperson? Does every child love sport? The answer to all three is ‘no’. But – is a comprehensive sports program still necessary at all schools? The answer is an absolute ‘YES’. Sports programs create choices – this is our criteria for whether something should be included in education – so therefore it is valuable (regardless of cultural tendencies).
Children, therefore, have the right to choose once their education is finished, whether sport should be part of their lives. Theatre and personal development ideas should be given the same focus, as should many other elements of Australian life. Melbourne especially has not only a rich sporting culture, but also a rich theatre and arts culture. We should support this by giving children quality arts experiences that enable choices.
However, you cannot choose something you have no positive emotional experience to. Unfortunately, most theatre for children (not just in schools but everywhere) does little to create this opportunity for choice. Or, instead, it only creates the opportunity for choosing to dislike theatre – naturally, if specific theatre falls short and is just simply ‘bad’, then of course we should ‘dislike’ it. The problem arises when it is a child’s FIRST experience, and maybe ONLY experience, of theatre – and they continue to believe throughout their entire lives that all theatre is as bad and boring as that first experience. They will be unlikely to ‘try’ theatre again, therefore they have missed out on an important part of our culture. You can see that this is getting a little more serious! And this actually happens! I’ve personally spoken to many children who have experienced a bad show and how it made them feel about theatre (“it’s stupid”). We often get around that by labelling our show as something different (‘musical rock concert’). Further, I’m sure we would consider it a failure if a student who would naturally love mathematics, and perhaps even have a strong talent for it, had a bad teacher early on in Primary School and from then on always hated maths because they had a bad ‘anchor’ to it.
Alpha’s mission is to do the opposite of the first bad experience of theatre – for any child (or adult that didn’t get the chance as a child!) who is a natural arts lover, potential performer or potential theatre enthusiast will now have that choice. And just like with sport, we can’t know which students will benefit from the theatre or sports programs so therefore all students should be exposed to both programs.
Additionally, as our criteria for an educational experience is whether something creates choices, Alpha Shows qualify as part of the curriculum, without any doubt. And this is accomplished not by focussing on a ‘curriculum box’, rather, by focussing on something that transcends this administrative requirement – something that focusses on a child’s evolution as a human, on their development into a person who goes beyond the averageness of existence.
I can tell you with absolute certainty that Alpha events create that experience for children – it is, as we say, theatre that they can get excited about. It gives them that freedom of expression, the permission to do it. Too often children believe it is ‘cool’ to withhold expression, to be cynical, to be subdued, indifferent and lethargic. Unfortunately this is the side-effect of culturalisation of our children, and is mostly the example we set as adults, so that’s why they mimic these behaviours (because all children, like adults, naturally have the desire to ‘grow’ and for most this translates to ‘grow up’ or ‘grow older’ rather than ‘grow better’ or ‘grow in love’).