The purpose of theatre is not only to entertain but also to raise awareness of an issue and, in the case of epic theatre and more modern non-naturalistic theatrical performance work, allow an audience to actively engage with the issue and challenge their own perceptions and ideologies. This year both Year 10 and 11 achieved this in their devised performances when they decided to tackle head-on the issues that most affected them as young people in society today. This year one of the prevailing issues that the students wanted to bring to the stage was the issue of mental health in young men and the silence surrounding it.
One group produced a performance entitled “Boys Don’t Cry” (inspired by the Cure’s famous song of the same name). In the performance the girls openly discussed their mental health issues with the audience and with one another – issues such as the anxiety of parental pressure, eating disorders and sexuality. However, every time the boy in the performance tried to speak he was either met with complete silence or derision which is expressed through repeated use of phrases such as “man-up”, “You’re a guy, you don’t understand these things” and “what are you gay or something?”. All of this came from the students themselves as things that they had seen or heard of on social media – and it struck me how not only did they feel able to be comfortable discussing it with me but also how strongly they felt about the conveying the message about the language used in discussing boys’ mental health in comparison to girls.
Another group dealt with the issue of how “sexting” on social media can affect both boys and girls and the impact of this on the boy. The vulnerability displayed by the male student who delivered this performance not only demonstrated his ability as an actor but also the level of trust he had in the audience which was full of his peers, staff from the school and parents. Other performances addressed online grooming, homophobia, gender relations and how important it is not to pretend to be fine when you are not. During the dress rehearsal the Year 10 and 11 students supported one another and were so positive in their interactions. Throughout the process of the creation of these performance pieces we had always had open discussions, constructive criticism and other groups putting forward ideas from their own experiences to help with the devising process.
As a member of staff not only am I proud to work in a school that supports the dramatic arts but also understands how they can be used to allow students to explore issues that are important to them in an environment where they feel able to do so. At Taunton School the ethos of support is not only evident on the side of a sports field or in one of the houses, but SMT, tutors, staff, fellow students and parents always make an effort to support performance work in Drama – both in the big whole school performances and in these smaller GCSE assessments. Being on stage and acting in role is one of the most vulnerable things anyone can do; you feel exposed and you put your heart, soul and emotions out there for all to see. This year the Drama students have not only felt safe to do this but also to use the platform of performance to discuss mental health and social media from their perspective and raise awareness of these issues across the school community.
Head of Drama & Theatre Studies