The value of performing arts

More than an act: Drama class can connect students of different races, religions and education backgrounds on a creative level. –

Do you remember the time an elder asked you not to speak? Or when a teacher told you not to ask too many questions?

I am sure most of us have experienced various situations where we have yielded our voice to our elders. These instances may condition us to be passive learners.

Participating in the performing arts via drama activities can encourage one to voice one’s opinions in a non-judgmental manner. Games like improvisation allow students to express themselves openly in a safe space. I have seen introverted students express themselves with joy when they are asked the magic “What if you can be anything?” question.

When this concept of providing a safe medium for expression expands to other disciplines, I have observed how students studying law, engineering or even medicine benefit from a class or two in performing arts.

Every role in society requires some bit of communication, and activities like role-play prepare one for the real world, with some fun to boot.

Performing arts is a great way to have students of different backgrounds work together. In a drama classroom, I have seen students of different races, religions and education backgrounds connect on a creative level to complete tasks pertaining to performance.

As a practitioner in the field, I can confidently attest that there is no division of any sorts in the performing arts. When I meet my class for the first time, I can immediately detect the ones who have undergone a performing arts class. They are outspoken, and very confident. I credit the drama activities that encourage the students to share what they think. You will not shy away from speaking your mind when you are regularly asked by your drama teacher, “What do you think?”

When you can speak your mind, you become more confident in moulding an identity of your own. I believe performing arts education inculcates individuality, allowing students to be proud of their true selves.

Strong individualistic personalities in turn create original ideas for the world. Performing arts create leaders who are compassionate.

In the drama classroom, I have observed how students take turns to lead and support. While one or two students will naturally lead, it requires a good ensemble to take turns to lead, listen and support each other.

A colleague of mine once said to his class, “Good people make good actors.” How true! Think of the time you were charmed by a performer. Why was this performer so successful? We gravitate towards benevolent energies.

Good actors meticulously and religiously study human behaviour, and that I believe helps one cultivate positive qualities as a person.

In our devising class, we work with marginalised communities to tell their stories using techniques like Image Theatre, a flexible method for exploring issues, attitudes and emotions.

This is a powerful way for students to understand that performing arts goes beyond entertainment and can be used as an agent of change in society.

I have also worked with lecturers in the field of psychology to give drama therapy sessions. Drama therapy is a wonderful tool to process experiences that may be difficult.

This is increasingly important as mental health issues have increased among students and require our immediate attention.

Performing arts is not only a rewarding and educational experience, but it is also fun. And we all learn better, and easier, with a bit of fun!

Mark Beau De Silva is a senior lecturer for the Bachelor of Performing Arts (Hons) programme in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences and Leisure Management, Taylor’s University. An award-winning playwright who has directed and performed in various critically acclaimed performances internationally, he was the resident director and writer at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre from 2009 to 2019 and is the Malaysian representative for the Asian Youth Theatre Festival Movement. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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