Driven by drama

It started off as a casual conversation on the way home from school. I try not to ask my son the usual questions – what did you learn etc. But opt for the – what was the best part of school today type of question. So he excitedly tells me that they have a student teacher and she is really nice. My response, “Oh wow! That’s so cool!”
He immediately reacts, “Mum, why do you always have to speak with so much expression?” Okay, so am stumped. I take a minute to process this and then burst out laughing. You know that type of laughter, where you really cannot contain yourself and you feel the tears tricking down your face? Yes, that laughter! There I go again with my EXPRESSION!
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In that moment, I was transported to where my journey of expression began. I felt so content that I had trusted in my choices, even though it happened by chance, as with many important parts of my life. Because today, I really cannot imagine my life without my many expressions, and hand movements too! As animated as it may sound, it actually helps my thoughts flow better. More so, because I’m often required to think and talk on the spot, as a journalist, radio producer and a lecturer.
Journalism was always my first career choice. But, I did contemplate going into law and perhaps psychology, in that order of preference. A good knowledge of history would be an advantage in all these career choices, especially journalism which topped my list. At my alma mater, Dr AD Lazarus Secondary history was only being offered with speech and drama. I was keen to try it. Some teachers did not approve. They were concerned that taking speech and drama instead of physical science would place me at a disadvantage. But, there was no changing my decision. Never mind, that I was scared within, that I was just beginning to come out of my shell as an introvert and was unsure of whether I would be able to rise to the demands of that subject. It was more a compromise. It was the only way that I could study history up to matric level, and that was non-negotiable.
Within months I realised that I was really meant to be doing speech and drama; that it was helping me push myself, literally and figuratively, and that it was more a life skill that a subject. Much of that credit goes to an amazing educator, Ms L Ramsudh. I can still picture her, with those signature platform heels, walking beautifully with a perfect posture through the corridors, sporting short, striking red hair and an effortless smile. She believed in us. She told us we could do whatever we set our minds too. From enacting Shakespeare to reciting poetry and creating movement to different beats, she helped us through it all. She was strict when it came to assessments only because she knew our true potential.
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The first time I entered Durban’s magnificent Playhouse Theatre was with her and my enthusiastic classmates for a school performance. I can still picture myself, sitting in the first few rows, eyes fixated on the characters on stage, mesmerised. Two decades later, and I still remember that one of the characters continuously used this line, “If you don’t go, you will never know.” It became my mini-mantra in life. If I didn’t dare to try things I wanted in life, I wouldn’t know if I could succeed.
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In the years that followed, I went on many theatrical journeys, paying for shows on my own and supporting talented South Africans who left a part of them on stage whenever they performed. I connected with them, I learnt from them and I was moved by them. I realised the range of emotions that humans are capable of and that the voice is undoubtedly a powerful instrument. It ran deeper than lights,  camera, action! Drama is poetically beautiful as it allows an actor/actress to be their own version of someone else – the character they are playing. Releasing those emotions is always cathartic, for the actors/actresses and the audience.
But there’s an element of unpredictability as well. Like a live music concert, a play too, can never be performed in the same way . There will, inadvertently be different nuances on stage and varied reactions from the audience. Sometimes props may work superbly, sometimes they can fall flat, literally. That potential of having to do things differently and go with the flow  is what makes theatre dynamic.
Did I ever fancy swopping my seat to be on stage? Perhaps. But only as a fleeting thought. I would rather be behind the scenes, as you know. Even when I’m not I’m journalist, radio or lecturer mode, I am very opinionated and not one to shy away from telling it like it is. Drama helped me find that voice. It gave me that confidence to articulate my thoughts and carefully pronounce and project my words. I learnt the value of intonation too. It’s been an invaluable asset in gauging what a person is trying to convey, and yes, what they are trying to hide too.
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Like a character that must own their space on stage, I get to own my space in the world, thanks to speech and drama lessons from a superb teacher. Over the years, I have encouraged many people to study speech and drama. If they tell me they are keen on journalism, it’s a no brainer. Of course, I can only hope that their drama teacher is as awesome as mine!
If your son or daughter, brother or sister is keen on being part of their school drama play or participating in something in the arts field, do not underscore the importance of it. If I could amass such beautiful memories in just three years, just imagine what the journey could be like for them. Oh, and add to that the many technological innovations now at their fingertips that takes theatre to different dimensions. I absolutely love that more primary schools are putting on such productions, giving learners an even greater scope to enjoy and excel in the arts from an earlier age.
Is that my ever-so-subtle way of hinting at what my son is in store for with drama-obsessed me as his mother? The expressions when I speak will reveal all, soon enough!

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