I'm a pathways teacher at Kalianna, a special school in Bendigo, VIC.
Kalianna’s a special education school, so students who attend here live with disability and they also present with other sorts of learning difficulties of lots of different kinds. Over the years I’ve taught kids who have been on the autism spectrum, who have ADHD, dyslexia, and various other impairments. That just means they need a little bit of extra help to learn, and to grow, and to operate in a school environment. The area we’re in also faces socio-economic challenges, so a lot of the community in general faces unemployment and the sorts of the barriers that go with that as well.
A lot of the students I work with identify discrimination and ableism as something they have to deal with in the community every day. I think the opportunity to engage with and perform plays by Shakespeare is a way they can look at themselves and say, “No, we can do this. We can do stuff that’s hard. We can do stuff that our mainstream brothers and sisters do struggle with as well, and we can do a damn good job of it.”
In 2019 I took my students down to Bell Shakespeare’s Macbeth at Arts Centre in Melbourne. We watched the whole thing and when we emerged from the theatre, I wondered if they’d gotten anything out of it. Some of these kids hadn’t ever seen live theatre before – and as we sat around in the forecourt of the Arts Centre I asked them, “What did you think?” They didn't just say “good” or “bad”, they were asking me questions about the plot, telling me who their favourite character was and why. They had gotten so much out of it - more than I think I expected for them to get out of a piece of theatre. It was really wonderful, seeing them engage and connect with the play in so many different ways.
I find that whenever we dive into a Shakespeare play as a class, the kids find things about the characters or things that are going on in there that they relate back to themselves and their own lives as teenagers growing up in – well anywhere, really. All the raw emotion of a play like Macbeth, which is what we did last year and the idea of the melodrama of betrayal and all that, it's just, it's so real. And I think that it helps them both engage with some pretty heavy stuff – both in terms of the content, but also in terms of the process and cognition – I’m going to use a teacher words, I’m sorry – but the amount of thinking that has to go into understanding those concepts is massive, and doing that thinking is good for the brain at a fundamental level.
Last year we received an Artist in Residence program from Bell Shakespeare run by two teaching artists, Tim and Sharon, and everyone got involved. It was wonderful to see a group of students that I never thought would engage with drama activities full stop, let alone with Shakespeare, having a crack at the wonderful range of exercises that Tim and Sharon came up with, it was amazing to watch. I must say, the whole thing was carried by Tim and Sharon; it was their passion, their creativity, and their ability to accept offers from the kids that made it all go so smoothly. In the end we did a performance for the community based on Macbeth. I was so proud of the students; their ideas and their courage… I was crying in the wings watching that show. None of that would have been possible without Bell Shakespeare.
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